The United States in on alert that North Korea may be preparing for the launch of a missile or rocket in the near future. South Korea and Japan are also watchful, with the latter putting its military on alert for a possible North Korean ballistic missile launch by issuing a missile interception order on Friday in anticipation of such a launch. This comes as increased activities around North Korea’s missile sites have been reported by U.S. officials.
“The indications are that they are preparing for some kind of launch, could be for a satellite or a space vehicle — there are a lot of guesses. North Korea does this periodically — they move things back and forth,” a U.S. official who requested anonymity said.
The Japanese press reports that satellite images show North Korea seems to be setting up a long-range ballistic missile launch from the Sohae satellite launch facility.
The United States has been wary that North Korea might use space technology to enhance its missile capabilities. Tensions rose even further this month when Pyongyang conducted its 4th nuclear test explosion on January 6. The trial attracted worldwide condemnation, and the U.N. security council members have been debating on new sanctions for the aggressive nation. A U.N. Security Council resolution bars North Korea from launching any ballistic missiles.
Concerns have been raised that North Korea is planning to fit nuclear warheads on its missiles in light of the reported missile launch and the recent nuclear test. If North Korea achieved this, it would give them the ability to launch the nuclear missiles against South Korea, Japan, and even as far away as the U.S. West Coast. Pyongyang says that the missiles (which can travel more than 10,000 km) are rockets to be used for launching satellites into space.
The United States and South Korea have been trying to persuade China, North Korea’s closest ally, to support the punishing sanctions that have been imposed on North Korea for conducting its banned nuclear program. China has remained reluctant on this front, although Beijing has agreed that on the need for a strong U.N. resolution on North Korea for its nuclear program. The U.S. and China, however, disagree on how punitive these measures should be. There was no sign of a consensus after John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday
The U.S. advocates stronger sanctions that restrict shipping, aviation, trade of resources, and customs security. Since China is a crucial provider of oil and economic assistance to North Korea, its weighing in on the matter would inflict real damage to Pyongyang, forcing the country to abandon its nuclear program. Although China has expressed strong opposition to the fourth nuclear test conducted by North Korea, it has been reluctant to support the punishing measures proposed by the United States for fear of destabilizing the Korean Peninsula.
“We must point out that the new resolution is not aiming to provoke tensions and destabilize the [Korean] peninsula, but is aiming to bring the nuclear issue on the peninsula back to the right path, which is dialogue,” said Wang.