North Korea successfully launched a rocket yesterday, boosting the credentials of its new leader and stepping up the threat the isolated state poses to opponents.
The rocket, which North Korea says put a weather satellite into orbit, has been labeled by the US, South Korea and Japan as a test of technology that could one day deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting targets as far as the US.
The rocket was launched just before 10am, defense officials in South Korea and Japan said, and was more successful than a rocket launched in April that flew for less than two minutes.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said that it “deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit,” the first time an independent body has verified North Korean claims.
North Korea is banned from developing nuclear and missile-related technology under UN resolutions, although North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is believed to have continued the state’s “military first” program put in place by his late father and former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
The US condemned the launch as “provocative” and a breach of UN rules, while Japan’s UN envoy called for a UN Security Council meeting. However, diplomats say further tough sanctions are unlikely as China will oppose them.
Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe urged a UN resolution “strongly criticizing” Pyongyang.
A North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said that the rocket was a “peaceful project.”
“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,” KCNA cited him as saying.
China had expressed “deep concern” prior to the launch, which was announced a day after a top Chinese Communist Party Politburo member met Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang.
“China believes the Security Council’s response should be cautious and moderate, protect the overall peaceful and stable situation on the Korean Peninsula, and avoid an escalation,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said.