North Korea’s Planned Satellite Launch Sparks Warnings

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(Bloomberg) -- Japan and South Korea called on North Korea to abandon a planned rocket launch they see as breaching United Nations Security Council resolutions, following reports Pyongyang intends to put a satellite into orbit as early as this Wednesday.

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he instructed his cabinet Monday to gather and analyze information on North Korea’s plans. He said the launch would make use of technology deployed in ballistic missiles even if it was aimed at putting a satellite into space, a point reiterated by the government’s top spokesman.

“For North Korea to go ahead with a ballistic missile launch that it is calling a ‘satellite’ is a serious provocation against our country’s national security,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters. “Any launch using ballistic missile technology breaches related UN Security Council resolutions.”

The planned liftoff would come just days after South Korea launched its own satellites as it ramps up its space ambitions.

South Korea’s government urged the North to immediately retract the “illegal” launch plan and strongly warned against a provocation that threatens peace in the region, according to a foreign ministry statement.

The plan is a grave violation of the UN resolution that bans any launch using ballistic missile technology, and South Korea will firmly respond with the international community to a provocation based on close cooperation with the US and Japan, the statement added.

Senior officials from the three countries held phone talks on the issue on Monday in which they reaffirmed their resolve to cooperate closely and to urge North Korea to exercise self-restraint, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said.

Japan’s Coast Guard separately warned that a satellite rocket could be launched between May 31 and June 11. Japan’s defense minister issued an order to destroy any part of the projectile that might fall on Japanese territory.

North Korea last launched a space rocket in February 2016, when the country claimed to have put an observation satellite into orbit as part of what it said was a lawful space program. The satellite is thought to have never reached orbit.

Earlier this month North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited a facility assembling North Korea’s first spy satellite, indicating the state could soon conduct its first space rocket launch in about seven years.

Kim was accompanied by his preteen daughter in the field guidance visit to inspect the “military reconnaissance satellite No. 1 which is ready for loading,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported. The device is designed to monitor US forces and their allies in Asia.

North Korea is barred by UN Security Council resolutions from conducting ballistic missile tests, but Pyongyang has long claimed it’s entitled to a civilian space program for satellite launches. The US and its partners have warned that technology derived from North Korea’s space program could be used to advance its ballistic missiles.

South Korea successfully launched its first rocket and satellite made on Thursday from parts sourced in the nation. The South’s Nuri rocket lifted off from the country’s Naro Space Center with eight satellites.

--With assistance from Jon Herskovitz, Isabel Reynolds and Gareth Allan.

(Updates with phone talks between Japan, South Korea, US in sixth paragraph.)

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