International concern at North Korean rocket launch
For the second time this year, North Korea has defied international outrage and launched a long-range rocket, which it claimed was to put a weather satellite into space but which has raised fears among its neighbours of its nuclear ambitions.
“The second version of satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 successfully lifted off from the Sohae Space Centre by carrier rocket Unha-3 on Wednesday,” North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said.
The US, South Korea and Japan insisted that the rocket launch was a cover to test long-range missiles that could one day deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting targets as far away as on US soil.
Washington described the launch as “provocative”, while Tokyo has called for a meeting of the UN Security Council.
However, deeper sanctions are not on the cards because China, the North’s only significant ally, is unlikely to back any further restrictions.
The launch is a sign that the North’s young and inexperienced leader Kim Jong-un, who is not yet 30 and who took over the reins of power a year ago after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, is keeping up the secretive state’s efforts to boost its military capabilities.
The successful launch is seen as boosting his position in the impoverished state.
KCNA said the launch was also timed to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Kim Il-sung, Mr Kim’s grandfather, who founded North Korea in 1948.
North Korea is formally banned from developing nuclear and missile-related technology under UN rulings, including Resolution 1874, which demands that the DPRK not conduct launches using ballistic missile technology.
The rocket was launched just before 10am local time, according to defence officials in South Korea and Japan. The last effort in April fizzled out after less than two minutes.
China had expressed “deep concern” and it urged a measured response to the launch on the Security Council.
The Xinhua news agency carried an editorial which said that North Korea “has the right to conduct peaceful exploration of the outer space” but should also abide by relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
“We hope parties concerned can take a long-term perspective, deal with this calmly and appropriately, avoid taking actions that may further escalate the situation, and jointly maintain the peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in the region as a whole,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a press briefing.
For its part, the North Koreans said the “attempt to see our satellite launch as a long-range missile launch for military purposes comes from hostile perception that tries to designate us a cause for security tension”.