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Japan may shoot down North Korean rocket

S ource: The Australian

China exerts rare public pressure on North Korea over missile plan

HONG KONG — The last time this happened, when North Korea said it was launching a satellite using a long-range missile, Japan said it had the right to shoot the thing down.

Tokyo is again considering a similar warning, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, citing unidentified government officials.

An attempted satellite launch in 2009 — like a similar effort in 1998 — were widely declared to be failures, with the payloads crashing into the Pacific Ocean. But North Korea insists one of the satellites went into full orbit, where it remains today, broadcasting patriotic anthems.

“Under our law, we can intercept any object if it is falling towards Japan, including any attacks on Japan, for our safety,” the Japanese government’s top spokesman, Takeo Kawamura, said before the launch on April 5, 2009.

The North’s state-run media have said Kim Jong-un, the new leader, was prepared to start a full-scale war in 2009 had Japan attacked the missile. At the time, however, Mr. Kim was very much in the shadow of his father, the late dictator Kim Jong-il, and he was still 18 months from being trotted out as the heir apparent.

But this time the North says it has chosen “a safe flight orbit” — reportedly to the west, over the Yellow Sea, and not eastward, over the Sea of Japan — to ensure that “rocket debris to be generated during the flight would not have any impact on neighboring countries,’’ according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

“Rocket debris” would be spent boosters jettisoned during flight.

“The D.P.R.K. will strictly abide by relevant international regulations and usage concerning the launch of scientific and technological satellites for peaceful purposes and ensure maximum transparency,’’ the news agency said, using the abbreviation for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The North said it would even invite “experienced foreign experts on space science and technology and journalists’’ to the launch site and command center. Those observers and their nationalities were not specified.

The Kim Il-sung anniversary is shaping up as a landmark holiday in the North, with days off work, mass celebrations and food giveaways. The missile launch figures to be a centerpiece of the festivities, and the news agency quoted an official with the national science and technology commission as saying, “Now, I feel a great pride in living in a satellite power.”

And there was this quote from an army officer: “The news makes me feel like I’m moving round the earth aboard the satellite.’’

The Yomiuri Shimbun also reported that Japan “plans to demand North Korea cancel the satellite launch plan, in cooperation with the United States, South Korea and China, concluding that the launch would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution.’’

The North said Sunday that other nations were “sadly mistaken” if they thought the launch would be canceled.

The Foreign Ministry in Beijing summoned the North Korean ambassador “to express China’s worry” about the impending launch, according to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency. It is highly unusual for China to issue so frank and public a statement about actions by the North.

Likewise, Russia. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow issued a statement saying the missile firing “causes serious concern.”

Most military and defense analysts consider the satellite launch to be another thinly disguised test of a long-range ballistic missile, one that could eventually be used to deliver a nuclear warhead. The United States, South Korea and Japan will be cooperating on surveillance of missile preparations, as they did in 2009, and their ground and naval commands in the region will track the missile in flight.

North Korea only recently agreed to a new deal with the United States that would allow for a monitored shutdown of its main nuclear reactor in exchange for a quarter-million tons of food aid.

A missile launch, U.S. officials said, would imperil that deal. The satellite reaching orbit now seems to have a better chance than the food-for-nukes accord.

Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, said the United States makes it “a practice not to link humanitarian aid with any other policy issues,’’ especially in the case of North Korea.

“That said, a launch of this kind, which would abrogate our agreement, would call into question the credibility of all the commitments’’ North Korea has made, Ms. Nuland said. Her full comments are here, in a State Department transcript.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s leading newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, assailed joint military exercises being conducted by U.S. and South Korean forces, saying, “All servicepersons of the Korean People’s Army, fully ready to launch a sacred war of retaliation with a will to wipe out the enemies, are just waiting for an order to shower fire on them.’’

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