SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – North Korea attempted to launch what it called a space satellite over the sea to the South on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, as the nuclear-armed North seeks to make gains in a regional space race. .
The launch triggered emergency alerts and brief evacuation warnings in parts of South Korea and Japan, which were then withdrawn with no danger or damage reported.
South Korea’s military said it was still analyzing whether the launch was successful, while media in South Korea and Japan said governments there were examining the possibility of a failed launch. North Korean state media did not immediately mention the launch.
North Korea said it would launch its first military reconnaissance satellite between May 31 and June 11 to enhance monitoring of US military activities.
It joins an increasingly heated space race in the region. South Korea last week put satellites into orbit with a domestically designed and produced rocket for the first time, and China sent three astronauts to its now fully operational space station as part of a crew rotation on Tuesday.
“Whether or not North Korea’s current satellite mission succeeds, Pyongyang is expected to generate political propaganda about its space capabilities in addition to diplomatic rhetoric aimed at driving a wedge between Seoul and Tokyo,” said Liv Eric Easley, an international study. Professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
Warnings have been issued
In statements provided to international authorities, North Korea said the launch would carry the missile south, with various stages and other debris expected to fall over the Yellow Sea and into the Pacific Ocean.
Air raid sirens sounded across the South Korean capital of Seoul around 6:32 am (2132 GMT Tuesday) as the city issued a warning asking citizens to prepare for possible evacuation. Subsequent alerts said the city’s warning was sent in error.
The Japanese government issued an emergency warning about the J-Alert broadcasting system to residents of the southern prefecture of Okinawa early Wednesday morning. The government has warned residents not to hide indoors if they are outside.
It later said the missile would not fly to Japanese territory and lifted the warnings.
On Tuesday, Ri Byong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, said the ongoing joint military exercises by the United States and South Korea required Pyongyang to have “the means capable of gathering information about the military actions of” the enemy. in real time.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s launch, the US State Department said any North Korean launch using ballistic missile technology would violate several United Nations Security Council resolutions.
A US State Department spokesperson said that “Space Launch Vehicles (SLVs) include technologies that are identical to and interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles, including ICBMs.”
North Korea has previously attempted five satellite launches, with two satellites being put into orbit, including during the last such launch in 2016. However, analysts say its ability to build functioning satellites remains unproven.
“As far as we know, North Korea has a very limited ability to build satellites,” said Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation, a US-based space policy and security organization. They had launched two satellites before, but they all failed immediately after launch or shortly thereafter, and none of them appeared to have any significant capability.
Additional reporting by Hyunhee Shin, Joo Min Park, and Josh Smith in Seoul, and Changran Kim in Tokyo; Additional reporting by David Brunstrom in Washington. Editing by Chris Reese and Sonali Paul
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