Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have slammed the sanctions-busting launch, Pyongyang’s third attempt this year to put a satellite into orbit, and the first since Kim met President Vladimir Putin at a Russian cosmodrome in September.
After failed attempts in May and August, the official Korean Central News Agency reported that a rocket had blasted off late Tuesday and “accurately put the reconnaissance satellite ‘Malligyong-1’ on its orbit.”
Images in state media showed Kim watching the launch, then smiling and waving, surrounded by white-uniformed scientists and engineers celebrating the satellite’s purported success.
The satellite will “formally start its reconnaissance mission from Dec. 1 after finishing seven to 10 days’ fine-tuning process”, KCNA said, adding that it was already transmitting images.
Kim “watched the aerospace photos of Anderson Air Force Base, Apra Harbor and other major military bases of the U.S. forces taken in the sky above Guam in the Pacific, which were received at 9:21 a.m. on Nov. 22,” according to KCNA.
Eyes and fist
Washington said the launch was a “brazen violation” of successive rounds of U.N. resolutions barring the North from tests of ballistic technology – used in both missiles and satellite launch rockets.
In response, Seoul on Wednesday partially suspended a 2018 military deal with the North, saying it would resume surveillance operations along their border.
South Korea’s military said the purported spy satellite “was assessed to have entered orbit, from a comprehensive analysis of flight track information and various circumstances.”
But it added that “determining whether the satellite is actually operating will take time.”
Speaking at Pyongyang’s space launch center, leader Kim claimed the development meant the North now has “both ‘eyes’ overlooking a very long distance and a strong ‘fist’ beating a very long distance,” in a possible reference to the country’s banned intercontinental ballistic missiles, which it claims could hit the U.S. mainland.
Kim “stressed once again that it is necessary to operate many more reconnaissance satellites” to both increase the country’s “military strike means… as well as for self-defence”.
China, Pyongyang’s longtime treaty ally and main economic benefactor, did not condemn the launch but said the situation was “complex and sensitive,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a briefing.
“All parties concerned should remain calm and restrained, look squarely at the crux of the problem, adhere to the general direction of a political settlement, and do more to help ease tensions,” she added.