North Korea defies U.N. by firing long-range rocket over Okinawa

by and

Staff Writers

Tokyo condemned the launch of a North Korean rocket Sunday that apparently flew over Okinawa Prefecture and was widely viewed as a ballistic missile test in disguise.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed reporters immediately after the rocket was launched from North Korea’s western coast at around 9:31 a.m.

“North Korea’s act of pressing on with the missile launch despite (our) repeated warnings to exercise self-restraint is totally unacceptable,” Abe said at his office. He condemned the firing and slammed it as a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said it appeared that no debris from the rocket, which Tokyo said separated into five pieces while flying south, landed in Japanese territory.

“Following the (Jan. 6) nuclear weapons test, this is a clear violation of U.N. resolutions,” he added.

The first, second and third parts fell into areas projected earlier by North Korea. But the fourth landed outside the designated area, the government said. This could indicate that it partially failed.

The U.S. Strategic Command, however, said it detected a rocket entering space.

The South Korean military meanwhile said the launch had put an object into orbit, Reuters reported. These reports appeared to contradict earlier media reports pointing to a failure.

At 12:30 p.m. Sunday, North Korean state-run TV aired a special program trumpeting Pyongyang’s “successful” bid to put a satellite into orbit, adding that it would continue to launch satellites.

Both Suga and Defense Minister Gen Nakatani declined to comment on whether the test was a success, saying more time was needed to analyze the data.

Nakatani said he “would not rule out” the possibility of more provocative actions by the North, including the firing of other types of ballistic missiles.

Hideshi Takesada, a professor of the graduate school at Takushoku University in Tokyo, said North Korea’s technology has advanced further since a similar launch in December 2012.

“Their missile seems bigger than the last one,” Takesada said. “More powerful fuel is needed to launch a bigger missile. In that sense, I would say North Korea has advanced its missile technology.”

Japan deployed three of its six Aegis-equipped destroyers to monitor the launch in case their advanced defense systems were needed.

In Okinawa, Tokyo, and some areas surrounding the capital, Patriot PAC-3 interceptor units were deployed in a symbolic gesture to show Japan’s determination to defend its territory.

According to Tokyo, after the launch at around 9:31 a.m., the first part fell into an area of the Yellow Sea about 150 km west of the Korean Peninsula around 9:37 a.m.

Another two pieces landed in the East China Sea about 250 km southwest of the peninsula around 9:39 a.m., the government said.

The fourth part went over Okinawa Prefecture around 9:41 a.m. and later fell in the Pacific Ocean about 2,000 km south of Japanese territory, while the fifth part went over Okinawa at around 9:39 a.m. and continued south, the government said.

Nakatani said at a news conference that the missile may be the same type test-fired by Pyongyang in December 2012, given the similarity of its course and impact points.

In that test, the North fired a variant of its Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile, the ministry said.

Pyongyang had said it planned to launch an “earth observation satellite” into orbit, though Japan, the U.S. and South Korea have all said they regard the launch as a covert long-range ballistic missile test.

Rockets used for satellite launches employ technology similar to that for ballistic missiles.

Sunday’s launch drew further condemnation from Washington and Seoul, and many other nations were likely to join the chorus of calls for a tougher U.N. resolution that would impose even stricter sanctions on Pyongyang.

Responding to a joint request from the three allies, the Security Council was set to hold an emergency session at 11 a.m. Sunday in New York (1 a.m. Monday Japan time).But given the reported reluctance by Beijing to take a tougher stance against Pyongyang during earlier talks with Washington, the effectiveness of more muscular sanctions still remains to be seen.

The U.S. is currently working on a draft U.N. resolution to punish the North for a nuclear test on Jan. 6 that it claimed was a hydrogen bomb.

But Japanese officials say Beijing, Pyongyang’s main economic and military ally, is reluctant to support a U.N. resolution for tougher sanctions over its fourth atomic test. China regards North Korea as a buffer zone with South Korea, which hosts a large continent of U.S. troops.

The North is already under heavy sanctions from both Japan and the U.N., but on Sunday, Abe told his staff to prepare further economic sanctions that are separate from any so far proposed by the U.N. Security Council.

This will likely make it even more difficult for Tokyo to resume the stalled talks on the abduction issue. Abe is keen to get Pyongyang to reveal what happened to the rest of the Japanese who were abducted by North Korean spies in the 1970s and 80s.

The bizarre and tragic stories of the abductees and their families has left the public clambering for answers, and Abe has continually stressed that resolving the issue remains a top diplomatic priority.

  • Robert Matsuda

    It is right that the United Nations should tighten the sanctions against North Korea. But it seems that imposing just economic sanctions are not enough to prevent the country from continuing dangerous tests. If China cannot persuade North Korea to give up the development of nuclear weapons, the countries surrounding North Korea must band together against this unreasonable country, including destroying the present regime of the country.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    What??? The story here is not that North Korea launched the rocket. We all knew they would do that. The big story is that earlier this week Abe said that if North Korea launch the rocket Japan would shoot it down. However, not only did Japan not shoot it down, it appears not to have even tried to do so. Why did Abe say Japan would shoot it down if he was not going to do so? He is making Japan look like weak fools.

    • Charles

      “He is making Japan look like weak fools.”

      Exactly. No different from when he drummed up all that nationalistic fervor (part of what helped him get reelected) when he claimed he was going to get the Japanese abductees back from North Korea. He even started negotiating with them, giving them what they wanted, and easing some sanctions (great for North Korea’s economy and nuclear program). Any news on the abductees that were supposed to be coming home, lately? Nope, not a single abductee returned. In other words, Abe-san has done nothing but HELP North Korea. Great job, buddy. Too bad he didn’t consult me first.

      Once again, all talk, no action. “We’re going to shoot down that North Korean missile!” YAY!!! (punching the air) NIPPON! NIPPON! NIPPON! (bring out the flag, plays Kimigayo)

      In a real democracy, people would vote this guy out of office next election. But in Japan, the official religion of the country isn’t Shintoism or Buddhism; it’s the LDP. Even when given plenty of evidence that the LDP’s policies are just wrong, the common man has blind faith and believes the LDP will win the day.

    • COYP

      They were going to shoot it down if it looked like it was going to fall on Japanese land and cause risk to people, if it was going to fall into the ocean then it isn’t worth the risk of shooting it down, rocket fuel is highly toxic and not the kind of thing you want spaying everywhere.

    • Ahojanen

      >>Abe said that if North Korea launch the rocket Japan would shoot it down.

      To my knowledge, both Abe and Defense Ministry said that Japan would shoot it down only if the launch threatens the territory.

      Beside a single missile for intercept costs 1 million USD. I personally want to see the rocket shot down, though.. :)

      • Charles

        It flew into Japanese airspace (therefore it was a threat to security). $1,000,000 is nothing for a real field test of the ability to shoot down an ICBM. Abe is nothing but a coward. His bark is extremely loud, but the only people he ever bites are his own countrymen and allies from abroad.

      • 151E

        So your advice then is that Japan should take a cold war and make it hot?

      • Charles

        “So your advice then is that Japan should take a cold war and make it hot?”

        When an idiotic thing to say.

        “Making a cold war hot” would be bombing North Korea–something I never mentioned.

        Shooting down a North Korean missile IN JAPANESE AIRSPACE is Japan’s right as a sovereign nation. It’s not “making a cold war hot” because not a single North Korean is killed, and besides, it’s Japan’s right to defend itself (or practice defending itself) within its own borders!

        Seriously, what kind of nutcase thinks that a country can’t shoot down an enemy missile WITHIN ITS OWN BORDERS?

      • 151E

        According to UN treaty, all nations (even ones we don’t like) are entitled to the peaceful utilisation and exploration of space. That’s why the North Korea uses satellite launches as a pretext for their ballistic missile tests.

        While there was a slim possibility of debris from a booster stage falling on a populated area, the NK rocket would have been well into low earth orbit by the time it passed over Okinawa prefecture. And while there is no agreed vertical limit to sovereign airspace, outer space is not subject to national jurisdiction – so the legality of Japan shooting down the rocket in LEO would be dubious at best, and would certainly invite retaliation from North Korea.

        I’m all for Japan defending her borders, but refraining from needless provocation is not the same as cowardliness.

      • Charles

        Yeah, all nations are entitled to peaceful utilization and exploration of space by the UN–as long as there isn’t a specific UN resolution against it! Forgot that part, didn’t you?

      • 151E

        So your advice then is that Japan should take a cold war and make it hot?

  • GBR48

    North Korea is making China look weak, and a rocket like that could hit Beijing.

    The Chinese just want a buffer between themselves and the US. That should be easy to arrange in a treaty with South Korea and the US or by replacing the current regime in Pyongyang with one aligned with Beijing, and happy to play ball internationally in return for aid.

    That could open up billions of dollars worth of international aid to rebuild every aspect of North Korea’s infrastructure, with Chinese companies doing a good deal of the work. It would dig the Chinese economy out of its slump and go a long way to boosting economies across Asia.

    A stable regime change in North Korea could be the key to a decade of Asian prosperity. All that is standing in the way of that, is the current Pyongyang regime. Over to you, China.

    Incidentally, ‘we didn’t break international rules, it was just for scientific research’, the North Korean excuse for the launch, is the same excuse Japan uses for whaling. Tricky stuff the moral high ground.