Japan and South Korea joined the United States Wednesday in urging North Korea to cancel plans to send a long-range rocket into space.
Japan and South Korea say the launch would violate United Nations resolutions. Those measures bar North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Such a missile can travel over a great distance, fall to the ground and then explode.
North Korea told UN agencies on Tuesday that it planned to launch what it called an “Earth observation satellite” between February 8th and the 25th.
The Japan Times newspaper reported that the launch may take place around February 16th. That is the birth anniversary of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. He was the father of current leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korea says it has a right to launch rockets as part of its space program. But Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other American allies have criticized the program. They say it is a way for North Korea to avoid UN restrictions on weapons development.
Abe called the North’s missile tests “an obvious violation of Security Council decisions.” He told Japanese lawmakers that the launch would be “a grave, provocative act against the security of our country.”
On Wednesday, Japan’s Defense Ministry ordered its ballistic-missile defense units to be ready to shoot down any North Korean rocket that threatened the country. The Japan Times reported that observers expect the missile to fly over two small Japanese islands.
Experts say it is not likely that American or South Korean forces would attack the missile before it is launched.
Daniel Pinkston teaches international relations at Troy University in Seoul. He says no country is considering using “force to destroy the missile on the ground before the launch, or something like that, because the cascading effects and the consequences of that would be costly for everyone.”
South Korea warned the North not to launch another missile.
Cho Tae-yong is a security official in the office of the South Korean president.
He said, “We strongly warn that the North will pay a severe price if it goes ahead with the long-range missile launch plan, which is a grave threat to peace not only in the Korean peninsula but also this region and around the world.”
On Wednesday, China said it was concerned about reports that North Korea was planning a missile launch this month. A Chinese foreign ministry official said China has called on the North to exercise restraint.
The United States and its allies have been pressuring China to support strong U.N. sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear test last month. Experts say China must pressure the North to stop its nuclear tests. They say the North does not change its behavior because of criticism or pressure from other countries.
North Korea last launched a long-range rocket in December 2012. It then soon tested its nuclear weapons for a third time. It tested its nuclear weapons for a fourth time early last month.
The United States and China agree that the UN should approve a strong resolution against North Korea. But they do not agree on how the North should be punished. They also remain divided over the level of severity the punitive measures should take.
The U.S. is considering sanctions against the North. These measures would target companies and banks that operate in North Korea. Many of them are based in China. If these sanctions are put in place, they would likely increase tensions between the United States and China.
China protects North Korea and is the North’s top trading partner. It agrees that the North Korean leadership should be punished. But it also wants any sanctions to lead to a restarting of international negotiations.
In early 2009, North Korea left negotiations with the U.S., South Korea, Japan, China and Russia. Those talks were aimed at ending the North’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for economic aid and security guarantees.
China’s top nuclear diplomat arrived in the North Korean capital Pyongyang on Tuesday to talk about restarting the talks.
Ahn Chan-il lived in North Korea until he defected. He is now an expert on the North at the World Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul. He said there is little the U.S., Japan and South Korea can do “other than releasing statements” criticizing the North for its plan to launch a missile this month.
Experts believe the planned rocket launch is part of North Korea’s program to develop nuclear missiles. They believe the North has more than 1,000 missiles that can reach targets in South Korea and Japan, and enough plutonium to make eight to 12 nuclear bombs.
Last year, American military officials said they believe North Korea can make a nuclear weapon small enough to be placed on a long-range missile. North Korea has not yet shown that it can do so, however.
I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.
VOA’s Brian Padden reported this story from Seoul, with help from Youmi Kim. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. He also used information from VOA’s Victor Beattie in Washington. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
grave – adj. very serious; requiring or causing serious thought or concern
provocative – adj. causing discussion, thought, argument, etc
unit – n. a single thing, person or group that is a part of something larger
cascade – n. a large number of things that happen quickly in a series
effect – n. a change that results when something is done or happens; an event, condition or state of affairs that is produced by a cause
consequences – n. something that happens as a result of a particular action or set of conditions
defect – v. to leave a country, political party, organization, etc., and go to a different one that is a competitor or an enemy