North Korea is escalating tensions in the Indo-Pacific region as it gears up to launch its first military reconnaissance, or spy, satellite into orbit. This development has particularly rattled South Korea and Japan, prompting both nations to urge their reclusive neighbour to desist from the proposed launch.
Last month, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un reportedly inspected the nation’s aviation facility, where preparations were underway to ready the spy satellite for its inaugural launch. This revelation, reported by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), has sent ripples of concern across neighbouring countries, with the last few days marked by increased tensions.
According to the Japanese coast guard, North Korea has intimated Japan about its intention to launch the military satellite between May 31 and June 11 this year. The Japanese government has vehemently urged North Korea to refrain from such a launch, pledging to collaborate closely with its allies on the matter. Reuters reports suggest Japan has even threatened to take stringent actions against North Korean ballistic and other missile threats.
South Korea has echoed Japan’s sentiment, expressing its strong disapproval of North Korea’s impending military satellite mission. A spokesperson for the South Korean Foreign Ministry reportedly conveyed, via Reuters, that if North Korea continues on its current path, “it will pay the price and suffer.”
While satellite launches, including those of a military nature, are standard for many nations, North Korea’s launch poses a unique issue. The secretive nation plans to use long-range rocket technology for the mission, an act that would directly contravene numerous UN Security Council resolutions banning the use of ballistic technologies by North Korea. The South Korean authorities have raised concerns over regional peace and stability being jeopardized by such actions.
North Korea has been under UN sanctions since 2006, which aim to curtail funds for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development programmes. The Pyongyang government dismisses these resolutions, deeming them an infringement on its sovereign right to self-defence and space exploration.
It’s noteworthy that past military technology missions have repeatedly imperilled neighbouring nations, unsettling the region’s stability. A case in point occurred in October 2022, when North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) that flew over Japan for the first time since 2017. This triggered alarms throughout parts of Japan, with sirens, radio broadcasts, and phone messages alerting residents. In the subsequent months, North Korea conducted several other tests that have significantly destabilised the region.