North Korea will launch its first military reconnaissance satellite in June to spy on the US military, state media reported on Tuesday.
Pyongyang said the purpose of the surveillance exercise was to monitor “dangerous” military activity by the United States and South Korea in real-time.
The launch is expected between May 31 and June 11 and Yasukazu Hamada, Japan’s defence minister, has ordered Japan’s Self Defence Force to shoot down the satellite or any debris if it enters Japanese territory.
The development of military reconnaissance technology has long been one of the North’s stated defence goals, but in a statement on newswire KCNA, Ri Pyong Chol, a senior official from the Central Military Commission appeared to link the latest move to joint US-South Korean military drills.
Mr Ri denounced the drills, a display of tank, missile and combat aircraft firepower that began last week some 30km from the border with North Korea, as openly showing “reckless ambition for aggression”.
He added that the drills required Pyongyang to have the “means capable of gathering information about the military acts of the enemy in real-time”.
Amid spiralling tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Seoul has also “strongly” warned against the launch, accusing Pyongyang of being “absurd” for using the joint exercises – billed as defensive in nature – as an excuse to launch a spy satellite.
To launch such a satellite into space, North Korea would have to use long-range missile technology banned by United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Its past launches of Earth observation satellites were seen as disguised missile tests, and analysts have warned that the latest technology would play a crucial role in the event of a nuclear preemptive strike, enabling it to strike targets more accurately in the event of war.
Hirokazu Matsuno, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, said the launch was a “threat to the peace and safety of Japan, the region and the international community” as it may enter or pass above southwestern islands including Okinawa, where the US has major military bases and thousands of troops.
The chief nuclear envoys of South Korea, the US and Japan have agreed to cooperate to help promote a unified, resolute international response.
China, North Korea’s main trading partner, has renewed its call for a political settlement of tensions, urging all parties to “address each other’s legitimate concerns through meaningful dialogue.”
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