North Korea told Japan on Tuesday that it will launch a satellite in the coming days in violation of UN resolutions, its apparent third attempt to fire a military spy satellite that drew immediate rebukes from its neighbours.
North Korea is eager to operate spy satellites to deal with what it calls escalating US-led military threats. But its two previous attempts to place a spy satellite into orbit earlier this year ended in failure due to technical issues.
Japan's coast guard said North Korea notified Tokyo of its plan to launch a satellite sometime between Wednesday and November 30.
The notice identified three maritime zones where debris from the rocket carrying the satellite may fall. Two are in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and China and the third in the Philippine Sea, Japanese coast guard spokesperson Kazuo Ogawa said.
Ogawa said the areas are the same as the ones North Korea identified for its failed satellite launches in May and August, implying the third attempt would have a similar flight path. North Korea has given Japan the launch information because Japan's coast guard coordinates and distributes maritime safety information in East Asia.
The North's notification came a day after rival South Korea warned it to cancel its launch or face consequences. South Korea's military suggested Seoul would suspend a 2018 inter-Korean agreement to reduce tensions and resume front-line aerial surveillance and live-firing drills in response to a North Korean satellite launch.
UN Security Council resolutions ban any satellite launches by North Korea because they are seen as a cover for testing its missile technology. North Korea says it needs a space-based surveillance system to better monitor its rivals, but South Korea says the North's launches are also designed to enhance its long-range missile programme.
Since last year, North Korea has carried out about 100 missile tests as part of its efforts to modernise its arsenal of nuclear-capable weapons targeting the United States and its allies. Many foreign experts say the North still has the few remaining technological hurdles to overcome to possess functioning nuclear-tipped missiles.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida asked officials to coordinate with other countries to ask North Korea to cancel its launch. He said Japanese destroyers carrying Aegis-class radars and PAC-3 missile defence systems on Okinawa have been activated to stand by in case of an unexpected development.
Even if the purpose is to launch a satellite, if ballistic missile technology is used, it is a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and this is a matter that greatly affects the safety of the people, Kishida said.
During trilateral phone talks, senior officials from Japan, South Korea and the US affirmed their cooperation to strongly request North Korea to cancel its launch plan, according to Japan's Foreign Ministry. South Korea's Foreign Ministry separately urged North Korea to withdraw the launch plan immediately, saying that Seoul will sternly deal with an illegal provocation by North Korea in close coordination with Washington and Tokyo.
After the second launch failure, North Korea had vowed a third attempt would take place in October, but failed to follow through. South Korean officials said the delay was likely because North Korea is receiving Russian technology assistance.
North Korea and Russia are pushing to expand their relationships in the face of separate confrontations with the West North Korea over its nuclear ambitions and Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Foreign governments and experts say North Korea is seeking Russian technologies to enhance its nuclear and other military capabilities in return for supplying conventional arms to support Russia's war efforts in Ukraine. Such transfer would violate UN Security Council resolutions that ban any weapons trading to and from North Korea.
I will just say that our position is very clear, which is that Russia should not supply North Korea with technology that would violate United Nations Security Council resolutions, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Monday.
North Korea should not supply Russia with arms that it can use to prosecute its war of aggression against Ukraine.
Both Russia and North Korea dismissed the alleged weapon transfer deal as baseless. But when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un travelled to Russia in September, President Vladimir Putin told state media that his country would help North Korea build satellites.
In the first launch attempt, the North Korean rocket carrying the satellite plunged into the ocean soon after liftoff. North Korean authorities said the rocket lost thrust after the separation of its first and second stages. After the second launch failure, North Korea said there was an error in the emergency blasting system during the third-stage flight.
South Korea retrieved debris from the first launch and said the satellite wasn't advanced enough to perform military reconnaissance. But some civilian experts said the North Korean satellite was still likely capable of detecting big targets like warships so it could be militarily useful for the North.
North Korea is under rounds of punishing UN sanctions imposed over its past weapons tests and rocket launches. But its recent testing activities and two spy satellite launches didn't earn the North fresh sanctions, because Russia and China blocked the US and others' attempts to toughen the sanctions.
On Tuesday, the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and its battle group arrived at a South Korean port in a show of readiness against North Korea's evolving nuclear threats, South Korea's navy said.
Earlier this year, the US flew nuclear-capable bombers and deployed a nuclear-armed submarine in South Korea as well.