North Korea could launch spy satellite as early as this week

Pyongyang says it will attempt its latest satellite launch before December 2 as Japan and South Korea remain on standby.

A man walks past a TV broadcasting a news report on North Korea firing a space rocket, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, August 24, 2023. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo
A man walks past a TV broadcasting a news report on North Korea firing a space rocket [File: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

North Korea has said it plans to launch a spy satellite as early as Wednesday, following two unsuccessful attempts earlier this year.

North Korea formally notified Japan that the launch will take place at some point before December 2, prompting Japan and South Korea to issue maritime warnings for ships in the Yellow and East China seas.

While Japan is one of North Korea’s top enemies, it is also the coordinating authority for the International Maritime Organization overseeing the waters under the pathway of the satellite launch.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida immediately spoke out against the plan, something North Korea regards as its sovereign right, along with its rocket programme.

“Even if the purpose is to launch a satellite, using ballistic missile technology is a violation of a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions,” Kishida told reporters on Tuesday. “It is also a matter that greatly affects national security.”

Both Japan’s and South Korea’s militaries will be on high alert ahead of the launch, joined by the USS Carl Vinson, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, at South Korea’s naval base in Busan.

Kishida said the three countries will work together to “strongly urge” Pyongyang to cancel the launch.

South Korea has been warning for weeks of the impending satellite launch, which they said would also violate a 2018 agreement designed to de-escalate tensions.

“We sternly warn North Korea to … immediately suspend the current preparations to launch a military spy satellite,” Kang Ho-pil, chief director of operations at the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Monday.

“If North Korea goes ahead with the launch of a military reconnaissance satellite despite our warning, our military will take necessary measures to guarantee the lives and safety of the people.”

Whether the satellite launch will be successful is far from certain.

North Korea has successfully launched at least two “observation” satellites in the past, but its two attempts so far this year have been a failure.

South Korean officials say the wreckage from a recent launch showed the satellite had “no meaningful use” for reconnaissance.

This time, however, Pyongyang may have had help from Russia following a rare visit by leader Kim Jong Un there in September to meet President Vladimir Putin at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the country’s east.

Analysts speculated at the time that Kim may have offered some of his country’s ammunition – badly needed for the Russian war effort in Ukraine – in exchange for help with the satellite programme.

A spy satellite is a priority of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s plan to modernise the country’s military and develop cutting-edge weapons.

He hopes to one day have a fleet of satellites to monitor the movements of US and South Korean troops in the region and enhance its military capability.

South Korea separately plans to launch its own satellite from California on November 30 with US assistance.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies