SEOUL — North Korea on Wednesday launched a space vehicle carrying its first military reconnaissance satellite designed to monitor the South Korea and United States militaries and help the North launch nuclear attacks more effectively, South Korean defense officials said.
As the rocket roared to the south, a machine-generated automatic emergency text message told citizens in Seoul to “prepare to evacuate,” for fear that debris from the North Korean rocket might fall on the South Korean capital. The government later retracted the alert, calling it a “false alarm.”
The South Korean military said that the North Korean rocket flew over the waters between the Korean Peninsula and China.
Similarly in Japan, the government sent alerts in Okinawa prefecture urging residents to seek shelter inside and away from windows, but by just after 7 a.m. the alert was lifted as the government announced the missile was not flying toward Japan. Less than 10 minutes later the Ministry of Defense announced a projectile had already fallen into the water.
The launch on Wednesday signaled a space race heating up in the sky over the Korean Peninsula. The United States, Russia, China and Japan already have satellites watching the peninsula, one of the flash points of East Asia. South Korea recently joined the fray by vowing to place its first military spy satellite in orbit by 2025 and testing a launch rocket twice since March last year.
When Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, ordered his country to double down on its efforts to enlarge and diversify its nuclear arsenal during a ruling Workers’ Party meeting in 2021, he made it one of his priorities to place military spy satellites into orbit.
Spy satellites would make the North’s nuclear arsenal more dangerous by giving its military eyes in the sky, military experts say. They would also help North Korea collect data from its missile tests as the country struggles to perfect its intercontinental ballistic missile technologies.
But experts have also questioned the capabilities of the North’s prototype satellite, which the North has said would be carried by the rocket launched on Wednesday.
Choe Sang-Hun is the Seoul bureau chief for The Times, focusing on news in North and South Korea.
Motoko Rich is the Tokyo bureau chief, where she covers Japanese politics, society, gender and the arts, as well as news and features on the Korean peninsula. She has covered a broad range of beats at The Times, including real estate, the economy, books and education. @motokorich • Facebook
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