The Japanese government is now deploying surface-to-air missile defense systems and is placing its military on alert to prepare for North Korea’s rocket launch sometime this month, as reports have emerged that the isolated country has already deployed the first stage of its rocket.
The North Korean government announced it would launch a rocket to deploy a “peaceful scientific and technological satellite” between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22. However, many believe the Stalinist state is looking to test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of potentially delivering a nuclear warhead, while the United Nations’ Security Council recently issued warnings to Pyongyang over the launch.
As of Monday, Pyongyang already deployed the first stage of its three-part rocket on its launch pad at the Sohae Space Center in North Phyongan Province, a South Korean government source told the Yonhap News Agency.
“That means North Korea is starting its process of launching a long-range missile,” the source was quoted as saying.
The Japanese Self-Defense Forces sent a PAC-3 interceptor with surface-to-air missiles to Okinawa Prefecture to potentially shoot down debris left behind by the North Korean Unha-3 rocket, reported Japanese broadcaster NHK.
Japan’s Defense Ministry has predicted that the rocket’s flight path would cross over islands in southern Okinawa Prefecture. The Japanese government has sent several Aegis cruisers around the sea of Okinawa.
North Korea’s last test was a failure as its rocket broke up just seconds after it was launched. In April, Japan and South Korea also deployed surface-to-air missiles as a precaution.
During April’s launch, it was speculated that the regime of Kim Jong Un was attempting to use it as a type of bargaining chip to receive more foreign aid and bolster the young authoritarian leader’s standing within the ruling communist regime. The April rocket launch coincided with the 100th birthday of Kim’s grandfather and first North Korean leader, Kim Il Sung.
But now it appears that Kim is carrying out the launch to bolster his political standing following an especially weak economic output and a recent reshuffling in the military, according to an analysis from the Daily NK.
However, as the Daily NK points out, “if the missile launch were to fail, skepticism would spread” against the young Kim. “It seems that Kim Jong Un lacks the leadership to quash this sentiment. Therefore, another missile launch is nothing other than a massive political gamble.”
South Korea’s Diplomatic Push
South Korea has stepped up diplomatic efforts with the United States, Japan, and other neighboring countries to pressure North Korea into abandoning the rocket launch.
South Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Ahn Ho-young will meet with U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim sometime Monday. South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy, Lim Sung-nam, is slated to meet with ambassadors from Russia, China, and Japan.
Over the weekend, the South Korean Foreign Ministry expressed its “grave concern” over North Korea planning a rocket launch “despite the international community’s repeated warnings,” according to a statement.
“North Korea must realize that any launch using ballistic missile technology is prohibited by relevant UNSC [U.N. Security Council] resolutions, and that such repeated provocations have only further isolated itself from the international community,” the statement reads.
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