Japan prepared to shoot down North Korean satellite set to launch in days

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno speaks at a press conference in Tokyo Monday, May 29, 2023. North Korea has notified neighboring Japan that it plans to launch a satellite in coming days, which may be an attempt to put Pyongyang's first military reconnaissance satellite into orbit. (Kyodo News via AP)
Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno called the launch a 'threat to the peace and safety of Japan'. Credit: AP

Japan's military is on standby after North Korea notified its neighbour that it plans to launch a satellite in the coming days.

Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada has ordered Japan's Self Defence Force to shoot down the satellite or debris, if any entered Japanese territory.

It is thought the upcoming launch could be an attempt to put Pyongyang's first military reconnaissance satellite into orbit.

To launch a satellite into space, North Korea would have to use long-range missile technology banned by UN Security Council resolutions.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the launch was a “threat to the peace and safety of Japan, the region and the international community.”

Experts say Kim Jong-un wants to launch a military spy satellite before South Korea does. Credit: AP

He said it is possible that the satellite could enter or pass above Japan’s southwestern islands, including Okinawa, where the United States has major military bases and thousands of troops.

Japan's coast guard issued a safety warning for ships in the area on those dates because of the possible risks from falling debris.

It said it the notice it received from North Korean authorities said the launch window was from May 31 to June 11 and that waters in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and east of the Philippines' Luzon Island could be affected.

Japan was already on standby for falling missile debris from North Korean launches earlier this year and has deployed missile defence systems in southwestern Japan and in the East China Sea.

South Korea also warned on Monday that North Korea will face consequences if it goes ahead with its launch plan.

Japan has already been on standby due to a series of missile launches by North Korea. Credit: AP

“Our government strongly warns North Korea against a provocation that threatens peace in the region and urges it to withdraw its illegal launch plan immediately,” a ministry statement said.

In a three-way telephone conversation today, the chief nuclear envoys of South Korea, the United States and Japan agreed to cooperate in a unified, resolute response to a satellite launch.

They strongly urged North Korea to refrain from what they termed “an illegal launch” that would threaten regional peace, according to South Korea's Foreign Ministry.

Earlier this month, North Korean state media reported leader Kim Jong-un had inspected a finished military spy satellite at his country's aerospace centre and approved its launch plan.

The country's launch notice issued today didn't specify the type of satellite that will be deployed.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he is willing to meet Kim Jong-un at 'any time without preconditions' Credit: AP

Last week, South Korea launched its first commercial-grade satellite into space, which likely will provide it with technology and expertise to place its first military spy satellite into orbit later this year and build more powerful missiles.

Experts say Kim would want his country to launch a spy satellite before its rival to the south does. North Korea placed Earth observation satellites in orbit in 2012 and 2016.

Pyongyang does not notify neighbouring countries of its missile firings in advance, but has issued notices ahead of satellite launches in the past. While North Korea has demonstrated an ability to deliver a satellite into space, there are questions about the satellite’s capability.

Foreign experts say the earlier satellites never transmitted imagery back to North Korea, and analysts say the new device displayed in state media appeared too small and crudely designed to support high-resolution imagery.

Since the start of 2022, North Korea has raised tensions by test-launching more than 100 missiles, some which are nuclear-capable weapons that place the US mainland, South Korea and Japan within striking distance.

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North Korea argues its testing spree is meant to issue warning over expanded military drills between the US and South Korea, but observers say the drive to modernise its weapons programme it to win greater concessions from its rivals in future dealings.

Last week, the South Korean and US militaries conducted large-scale live-fire drills near the border with North Korea as the first of five rounds of exercises marking 70 years since the establishment of their alliance.

North Korea warned Monday that the US and South Korea will face unspecified consequences for their “war scenario for aggression on” North Korea.

Japan's prime minister Fumio Kishida said he was ready to meet Kim at "any time without preconditions" as he spoke at a conference addressing abductions of Japanese citizens to North Korea in the 1960s and 1970s.

He added that he was making efforts to organise a summit as soon as possible. The issue was only partially resolved and North Korea never provided a full account for those still believed held.

Pyongyang on Monday urged Japan to show its sincerity about resuming talks, saying it’s necessary to “cool-headedly recall” why past talks had failed to improve ties.