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Japan sounds warning over North Korea’s third attempt to launch spy satellite

North Korea has notified Japan it plans a fresh attempt to launch a satellite into space at some point between Thursday and 1 December, prompting immediate condemnation from Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida.

Japan’s coast guard said on Tuesday it had been informed that the trajectory of the rocket would take it in the direction of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea. If carried out, it would probably mark a third attempt by the nuclear-armed state this year to put a spy satellite into orbit.

The launch would be the first since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made a rare trip abroad in September and toured Russia’s most modern space launch centre, where President Vladimir Putin promised to help Pyongyang build satellites.

In response to Tuesday’s announcement, Kishida said his country’s defence systems, including the Aegis destroyers and PAC-3 air defence missiles, stood ready in case any “unexpected situation” arose.

“Even if the purpose is to launch a satellite, using ballistic missile technology is a violation of a series of UN security council resolutions,” Kishida told reporters. “It is also a matter that greatly affects national security.“

Japan will work with the US, South Korea and others to “strongly urge” North Korea not to go ahead with the launch, Kishida said.

North Korea had attempted to launch what it called spy satellites twice earlier this year but failed, and South Korean officials have said in recent days that it appeared set to try again soon.

The secretive country has notified Japan, as the coordinating authority for the International Maritime Organization for those waters, of its plans all three times.

North Korea’s notice also follows its denouncement on Monday of the potential US sale of hundreds of missiles to Japan and South Korea, calling it a dangerous act that raises tension in the region and brings a new arms race.

In that statement, carried by the KCNA state news agency, the North’s defence ministry said Pyongyang would step up measures to establish deterrence and respond to instability in the region, which it said was caused by the US and its allies.

South Korea’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

Pyongyang has been seeking to place a military spy satellite into orbit, saying it plans a fleet of satellites to monitor moves by US and South Korean troops.

North Korea has made multiple attempts to launch what it called “observation” satellites, of which two appeared to have successfully reached orbit including one in 2016, but South Korean officials questioned whether it is transmitting any signals.

The North considers its space and military rocket programmes a sovereign right, and analysts say spy satellites are crucial to improving the effectiveness of its weapons.

The launch, if carried out, would probably come just before South Korea’s own plan to launch its first reconnaissance satellite with aid from the US on 30 November by a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket from the US military’s Vandenberg base.

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