South Korea has announced its intention to partially suspend an inter-Korean agreement after North Korea claimed it successfully launched a military spy satellite into orbit.
South Korea’s State Council responded to the satellite launch by approving the temporary measure and preparing to restart front-line aerial surveillance of the North, Seoul officials said on Wednesday.
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The North’s latest satellite launch was a clear violation of UN resolutions and “a grave provocation that threatens our national security”, said Heo Tae-keun, South Korea’s deputy minister of national defence policy.
He added that based on the solid military alliance with the US, South Korea will “promptly and strongly punish” North Korea if it uses the South Korean step as a pretext to launch another provocation.
The 2018 agreement, which created buffer and no-fly zones along the heavily fortified border between the two countries, also required the two neighbours to halt front-line aerial reconnaissance of each other and live-firing exercises and remove some of their guard posts and landmines at border areas.
Orbit of tension
Officials in South Korea and Japan, which first reported the launch, said they could not immediately verify whether a satellite was placed in orbit.
North Korea had previously notified Japan that it planned to launch a satellite between November 22 and December 1.
The Pentagon said it was “still assessing the success of the launch”.
A day after the satellite launch, however, the North Korean government released images of leader Kim Jong Un viewing photographs of key US military facilities allegedly taken by the satellite.
North Korea had tried to launch what it called spy satellites twice this year but failed. South Korean officials said in recent days that it appeared ready to try again soon.
The South Korean reaction further escalates the atmosphere of already compounding tensions. The North insists on its “sovereign right” to develop satellites and build up its capabilities against the armies of the US and its allies.
These military exploits from the North, however, are hindered by UN sanctions as international observers see these repeated satellite endeavours as furtive attempts to advance nuclear-capable missile technology.
Japan, South Korea and the United States conduct regular military drills aimed at countering North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal. The allies strongly condemned North Korea for the “brazen violation” of UN resolutions.
The launch “raises tensions and risks destabilising the security situation in the region and beyond”, US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
China urged all parties on Wednesday to remain “calm and restrained”.
“All parties concerned should remain calm and restrained, look squarely at the crux of the problem, adhere to the general direction of a political settlement, and do more to help ease tensions,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning said.