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North Korea threatens consequences after South Korea launches 1st spy satellite

Official media says war on peninsula ‘not matter of if, but when’

Dec. 3, 2023 - 15:56 By Kim Arin
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying South Korea’s first indigenous spy satellite lifts off from US Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Dec. 1, 2023 (local time), as seen in SpaceX’s webcast. (Yonhap)

North Korea said Sunday a clash and even war with South Korea was only a “matter of time,” about a day after Seoul’s first military reconnaissance satellite was launched into orbit.

The satellite, the first of the five South Korea is planning to send into space by 2025, lifted off from the US Space Force Base in California on a SpaceX rocket at 10:19 a.m. Friday and reached orbit soon after, according to the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul.

The National Defense Ministry said in a statement the launch has given the South Korean military independent space-based surveillance capabilities. The satellite is capable of identifying objects as small as 30 centimeters, compared to North Korea’s satellite that can reportedly spot only large objects.

Seoul’s launch comes less than two weeks after Pyongyang's launch of its own spy satellite.

North Korea’s satellite, named the Malligyong-1, succeeded in making it into orbit on Nov. 21 after failed attempts earlier this year. Considering the launch to be a breach of the 2018 inter-Korean military agreement on Pyongyang’s part, Seoul said it was suspending certain terms of the pact to restart surveillance activities around the border areas. Pyongyang responded to the partial suspension by announcing a total withdrawal from the agreement.

In reaction to Seoul’s satellite launch, North Korea contended South Korea’s accusations of Pyongyang violating the 2018 agreement.

“If our satellite launch constitutes a violation of the military agreement ... then what do you make of the execution of the military reconnaissance satellite launch with the help from its master, the US?” the state-run Korea Central News Agency said in a statement.

“No one (in South Korea) will be brazen enough to claim that this launch is in compliance with the agreement,” the statement said.

Continuing the attack on Seoul’s satellite launch, Pyongyang said in another KCNA statement that South Korea’s “acts of hostility will lead to (the country’s) total erasure from the map.”

“The buffer around the demilitarized zone that was maintained for the last five years under the military agreement has completely eroded, and an atmosphere of an unpredictable outbreak of war now prevails,” the statement said.

“Physical clash and war is no longer a matter of if, but when. ... Our military, unbound by any agreement, can resume normal military activities.”

The Workers’ Party newspaper, the Rodong Simun, suggested Sunday that the Malligyong-1 satellite has begun its reconnaissance operations over the weekend.

According to the paper, a new unit at the Pyongyang General Control Center of the Korean Aerospace Technology Administration has kicked off with the task of running the reconnaissance satellite on Saturday. The paper described the satellite operation unit as an “independent military intelligence organization.”

The intelligence gathered by the satellite will be reported to the Workers’ Party’s Central Military Commission, and then offered to “major units” responsible for war as well as to the General Reconnaissance Bureau of the Korean People’s Army, the paper said.

North Korea’s Defense Ministry was quoted by the paper as saying the satellite’s launch was expected to expand war deterrence capabilities.

Pyongyang claimed last week that its satellite was able to take images of the White House, the Pentagon and the US nuclear aircraft carriers. In a Nov. 28 statement, the KCNA said Kim viewed the satellite images of the US sites at a banquet for space program scientists and workers. The existence of the images has not been verified.

Pyongyang has defended the satellite launch as an exercise of its sovereign right to self-defense.

The North’s Defense Ministry said in a statement carried by the KCNA on Saturday that “any form of interference” with its space assets would be deemed a “declaration of war.”

The US Space Forces’ “apparent display of hostility” toward the North Korean reconnaissance satellite “cannot be condoned” as it is a “challenge to the sovereignty of the DPRK, and more precisely, a declaration of war against it,” the country’s Defense Ministry said in the statement, referring to North Korea by an acronym of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.