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North Korea plans to launch a rocket soon, likely carrying its 2nd military spy satellite

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North Korea on Monday announced plans to launch a rocket apparently carrying its second military spy satellite by early next week, drawing quick, strong rebukes from neighbours South Korea and Japan. The notification of the planned launch, banned under UN resolutions, came as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met Chinese Premier Li Qiang in Seoul for their first trilateral meeting in more than four years.

Japan’s coast guard said it was notified by North Korea about its planned launch of a “satellite rocket”, with safety cautioned in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and China and east of the Philippine island of Luzon beginning Monday and running through midnight June 3.

North Korea gives Japan its launch information because Japan’s coast guard coordinates and distributes maritime safety information in East Asia.

North Korea’s planned launch likely would be an attempt to put its second military spy satellite into orbit. South Korea’s military said Friday it detected signs of suspected preparations to launch a spy satellite at North Korea’s main Tongchangri launch facility in the northwest.

The UN bans North Korea from conducting any satellite launches, viewing them as covers for testing its long-range missile technology. North Korea has steadfastly maintained it has the right to launch satellites and test missiles. It says spy satellites would allow it to better monitor the US and South Korea’s moves and enhance the precision-strike capability of its nuclear-capable missiles.

“Any launch (by North Korea) using ballistic missile technology would directly violate U.N. Security Council resolutions and undermine peace and security of the region and world,” Yoon said at the start of the meeting with Kishida and Li. “If North Korea presses ahead with its launch despite the international warning, I think the international community must sternly deal with it.”‘ Kishida said he strongly urged North Korea to cancel the launch plan. China is a North Korean ally, and Li didn’t mention the North Korean launch plan.

In phone talks earlier on Monday, senior diplomats from Japan, South Korea and the United States agreed to urge North Korea to cancel the launch.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry separately called a satellite launch by North Korea “a provocation that seriously threatens our and regional security”.

Last November, North Korea sent its first military reconnaissance satellite into orbit as part of its efforts to build a space-based surveillance network to cope with what it calls increasing US-led military threats.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un later told a year-end governing party meeting that the country would launch three additional military spy satellites in 2024.

Whether the North Korean satellites can produce militarily meaningful imagery is widely doubted, but some civilian experts say operating several satellites could help North Korea monitor big targets at all times.

The latest launch notification to Japan identifies the same danger zones for potential rocket debris as those identified prior to North Korea’s last launch.

That suggests North Korea would use the same first and second stages of the rocket as before, said Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.

Chang said launching three satellites this year would allow North Korea to obtain imagery on sites in South Korea, Japan and the US Pacific territory of Guam more frequently.

Since 2022, North Korea has been engaged in a provocative run of missile tests to modernize and expand its weapons arsenals, prompting the US, South Korea and Japan to strengthen their security partnership in response. Experts say North Korea likely believes an enlarged weapons arsenals would increase its leverage in future diplomacy with the US.

North Korea wasn’t among matters listed on the official agendas for Monday’s trilateral meeting between Yoon, Kishida and Li.

But during a bilateral meeting with Li on Sunday, Yoon asked China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to contribute to promoting peace on the Korean Peninsula, while speaking about North Korea’s nuclear programme and its deepening military ties with Russia, according to Yoon’s office.

South Korea, Japan and the US have long urged China – North Korea’s major ally and economic pipeline – to use its leverage to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions. But China is suspected of avoiding fully enforcing UN sanctions on North Korea and sending clandestine aid shipments to help its impoverished neighbour stay afloat.



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