North Korea is set to launch a rocket-mounted satellite sometime between 12 and 16 April to commemorate the 100th birthday of late leader Kim Il-sung, despite disapproval and criticism of its plans from neighboring countries, the US and the UN. The announcement came just last Friday, a few weeks after it had agreed with the US to cease all nuclear activity, stop uranium enrichment and place a moratorium and nuclear and long-range missile tests in return for food aid.
If North Korea decides to go ahead and launch the satellite, it will violate UN Security Council resolutions which demand that the country stop launching rockets that use long-range intercontinental ballistic missile technology. Both the US and the UN Security Council are concerned that the development of missiles for the satellite launch might be used to cover up the development of nuclear weapons. The US State Department in Washington also said that the agreement the US made with North Korea explicitly forbade missile tests or satellite launchings. According to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “such a missile launch would pose a threat to regional security and would also be inconsistent with North Korea’s recent undertaking to refrain from long-range missile launches”.
Other countries that participated in the talks, which hoped to put an end to nuclear activity in the country, have added that they would consider the agreement breached if North Korea launches the satellite. Park Chan-bong, a policy advisor to South Korea’s ruling New Frontier Party and former negotiator with the North called North Korea’s announcement “disappointing particularly in consideration of the efforts by the US and South Korea to improve the situation and try to find a way to resume the six-party talks”.
China, on the other hand, as one of North Korea’s greatest political ally and supporter, said that its Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun met with Pyongyang’s ambassador to express Beijing’s “worry” over the launch. Mr. Zhang was quoted as saying that China hopes “parties concerned stay calm and exercise restraint and avoid escalation of tension that may lead to a more complicated situation”.
In response to increasing pressures from these countries to forgo the plan, North Korea released a statement yesterday. In the statement, North Korea insisted that the “hostile forces are sadly mistaken if they think the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) will cancel the already projected satellite launch due to some forces’ accusations”. The country, therefore, plans to go ahead with the launch.
Previously, on three separate occasions, North Korea had tried but failed to launch satellites into space. Japan is particularly concerned because North Korea’s attempt back in 2009 had its rocket launched over the country. There have been reports that Japan is seriously considering intercepting the satellite launch this time round, although details as to how it might do so is unknown as of yet.
Report: North Korea’s planned launch puts food aid on pause [CNN, 16 March 2012]
Report: North Korea says it will launch satellite into orbit [New York Times, 16 March 2012]
Report: China ‘concerned’ over North Korea rocket launch plan [BBC, 17 March 2012]
Report: North Korea defends launch plan [Wall Street Journal, 18 March 2012]