By Sam Kim
(Bloomberg) — North Korea will launch a long-range rocket to put a satellite in orbit this month, a United Nations agency said, in a move that comes just weeks after the isolated regime carried out a fourth nuclear test.
The launch to put the Kwangmyongsong (bright star) Earth observation satellite into orbit will take place between Feb. 8 and 25, the London-based International Maritime Organization said Wednesday by e-mail, citing a letter from the government in Pyongyang.
The news drew an instant rebuke from the U.S., South Korea and Japan. South Korean Presidential security adviser Cho Tae Yong said the regime would pay a “severe price” if it launches a long-range rocket as the move threatens the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and beyond. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament Wednesday that the missile threat is a serious provocation.
“This act would violate numerous Security Council resolutions by utilizing proscribed ballistic missile technology,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a briefing in Washington. “It also comes on the heels, as you know, of the January 6th nuclear test, which is itself an egregious violation of UN Security Council resolutions.”
North Korea has upgraded its launch site on the nation’s north-west coast about 50 kilometers from the Chinese border to accommodate larger rockets since it put its first satellite in orbit in 2012. It has long sought to have an inter-continental missile that can carry a nuclear bomb, and the U.S. has called the regime’s long-range rocket launches tests of ballistic missile technology banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions.
South Korean defense stocks rose on the news. Speco Co., which makes military products, rose as much as 7.6 percent; and Firstec Co., a weapons maker, climbed as much as 4.1 percent. By comparison, the benchmark Kospi index was down 1 percent as of 9:29 a.m. in Seoul.
The North Korean announcement was made as a senior Chinese nuclear negotiator traveled to Pyongyang in his first trip to the isolated country since the Jan. 6 nuclear test. Wu Dawei, China’s special envoy for Korean peninsula affairs, arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday, having met with his U.S. counterpart Sung Kim last week.
China wields a veto in the United Nations Security Council and supplies most of North Korea’s food and energy imports. On a trip to Beijing in late January, Secretary of State John Kerry failed to draw support for measures like bans on oil exports to North Korea and imports of North Korean mineral resources.
South Korean President Park Geun Hye has also urged China to use its influence to rein in its ally. Still China remains worried that a crackdown on North Korea may destabilize the Kim Jong Un regime and lead to millions of refugees fleeing across China’s border. Another fear is South Korea absorbing its northern neighbor, leaving a well-armed U.S. ally on China’s frontier.
The regime in Pyongyang fired a long-range rocket before each of its previous three nuclear tests, which all resulted in a tightening of international sanctions. North Korea said last month it wasn’t interested in aggravating tensions and that it would suspend nuclear testing if the U.S. stopped joint military drills with South Korea, a proposal quickly dismissed by U.S. officials.
–With assistance from Takashi Hirokawa and Heejin Kim.
©2016 Bloomberg News