UPDATE (2:45 AM EST): Prof. Stephan Haggard has some initial thoughts on the launch over at the North Korea: Witness to Transformation blog. Most notably on China, he says that they “signed on to the 2009 sanctions effort, but was more reticent following the April 2012 test. It remains to be seen what they will offer today, but we expect it will be marginal tweaks on the entities and individuals subject to sanction. Then the question becomes whether Beijing will enforce what it signs, and our cynicism on that question is pretty deep. As the more elaborated Xinhua coverage suggests, the reference to North Korea’s obligations not to test under 1874 will likely recede and concerns about escalation will drive Beijing to revert to its “even-handed” approach. China may be sending private messages to cease and desist, but they have certainly not proven strong enough to have any effect.”
UPDATE (2:25 AM EST): China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei expressed regret over North Korea’s rocket launch and also called on the North to abide by UN Security Council resolutions. He also said the situation should be resolved through talks.
UPDATE (1:43 AM EST): North Korea has released a second statement, saying in part “Our scientists and technicians, holding up Kim Jong Il’s will, succeeded in putting the “Kwangmyongsang-3″ No.2 satellite into orbit, by “Unha-3,” a delivery rocket.” In addition, they said ”The complete success of “Kwangmyongsong-3″ No.2 is a proud fruit of our party’s emphasis on science and technology policy, and a historical event in the process of advancing the country’s science technology and economy by independently asserting its right to peaceful use of space. Our scientists and technicians brilliantly upheld our great general’s will to launch a science technology satellite in 2012, which marks the 100th year of our great leader, in a time when the entire country is filled with endless longing and admiration of our great comrade Kim Jong Il.”
UPDATE (1:38 AM EST): The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed “deep regret” over the North’s rocket launch, saying in a statement that the launch increased instability in the region. In addition, it “called on other nations to refrain from actions that would further escalate tensions.”
UPDATE (1:22 AM EST): North Korea expert Leonid Petrov told NK News “North Korea’s 12.12.2012 rocket launch is very symbolic. It places the North Korean space exploration program ahead of its South Korean rival; it permits the DPRK regime to continue claiming its legitimacy and extends its life by consolidating the people around it; it also sends the strong signal to the world that international sanctions against North Korea don’t work and it’s time to return to the negotiating table. Altogether, the launch strengthens Kim Jong Un’s regime and elevates the stakes in the Korean security dilemma to a new height.”
UPDATE (1:13 AM EST): Briefing reporters for a second time today, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense said that the South had “confirmed that North Korea had re-stationed the rocket to the launching pad yesterday night.” It also stated that the South could confirm the first and second stages of the rocket launch were successful and commented that the reason for the launch seemed to be in order to solidify the standing of the Kim Jong Un regime. In response to a reporter’s question, the spokesperson said that they “did not recognize the cargo [of the rocket] as a satellite, but just a payload.” They also stated that the North’s rocket entered orbit but were not sure if it was functioning correctly.
UPDATE (12:51 AM EST): Moon Jae-in and the Saenuri Party have released statements on the launch. Moon Jae-in’s spokesperson Park Yong-jin condemned (link in Korean) the launching of the rocket, saying it was “clearly a provocation that increases the tension in the Korean peninsula.” However, he also criticized the Lee Myung-bak government, saying that its “national security incompetence in not being able to confirm whether a 20-story sized rocket was dismantled or launched is the primary source of our insecurity.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Saenuri Party also said (link in Korean) that the launch was a “serious provocation” but lashed out at Moon’s spokesperson saying his comments were “ignorant of the reason why the international community is concerned and against North Korea’s long-range rocket launching test…” It emphasized that Park Geun-hye, the Saenuri Party candidate, would pursue a “strong national security” while also seeking “dialogue, humanitarian assistance and mutually beneficial cooperation with North Korea.” It said the government would take “strong measures against North Korea’s missile provocation…not only through the Six-Party talks but also in cooperation with the international community, especially the United Nations.”
UPDATE (12:31 AM EST): An editorial in the Chinese newspaper “Xinhua” said that “Like other nations, the DPRK has the right to conduct peaceful exploration of the outer space. However, Pyongyang should also abide by relevant UN Security Council resolutions…” The article goes on to say that, despite Pyongyang’s clarifications, “the latest satellite launch was seen by South Korea, Japan and the United States as an attempt to test the DPRK’s ballistic missile capabilities” which “testifies to a dangerous lack of trust between the DPRK and those countries.” The editorial then calls for a resumption of the six-party talks but notably does not say whether or not China supports further UN sanctions.
UPDATE (12:27 AM EST): White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said that “North Korea’s launch today – using ballistic missile technology despite express prohibitions by United Nations Security Council resolutions – is a highly provocative act that threatens regional security.” He went on to say that the act was “another example of North Korea’s pattern of irresponsible behavior” and called for the international community to “work in a concerted fashion to send North Korea a clear message that its violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions have consequences.”
North Korea launched its rocket just before 10am this morning from its Sohae Satellite Launching Station on the West coast of the Korean peninsula, and has claimed to have successfully put its satellite in orbit . A report from North Korean state moutpiece the KCNA said:
The launching of the satellite ‘Gwangmyongsong-3′ using the “Unha-3″ rocket was a success, and the satellite has entered into its planned orbit.
Space analysts have confirmed that the rocket “deployed an object”, but this analysis has been contradicted by a Japanese official. Nevertheless, a special broadcast on North Korean state television is claiming its satellite is in orbit:
Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK government strongly condemns the launch, and “will be summoning the DPRK Ambassador to the UK to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office”.
South Korean government spokesman Kim Min-seok told South Korean media gathered for a press conference at the Ministry of Defence in Seoul:
At 0951 this morning, the [North Korean] rocket was launched from the Tongch’ang-dong Space Launch Center. The rocket was tracked until 0958, when the object passed over the West of Okinawa
Kim also told reporters that there were indications of the launch since yesterday, but this information was not revealed to the public.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has reportedly called an immediate national security meeting and Japan has requested that the UN Security Council convene today [Wednesday] and Japanese Prime Minister Noda has called a national security meeting for 1055 Tokyo time.
Speaking to CNN, a senior US official said that they were “surprised” by the launch and that it was “not expected”.
A Japanese government spokesperson also said they estimate rocket debris to have fallen in Korean coastal waters at 0958KST, and that the first stage of the rocket is likely to drop in the Pacific Ocean, 300km to the East of the Philippines.
Most analysts had predicted the rocket would not be fired until after December 21st. Only yesterday, South Korean media reported that the rocket had been dismantled, and a North Korean press release announced that they had extended the launch window to December 29th.
Jack Pritchard, former US Envoy to North Korea told NK News “it appears that North Korea has significantly improved its missile capability, calmed domestic concerns about its leadership and created a new dynamic in the upcoming South Korean presidential election. ”
“The fact that Pyongyang may have failed to reach orbit is almost immaterial as it will be able to claim multiple levels of success.”
Speaking from Seoul, John Swenson-Wright, Senior lecturer in East Asian International Relations at the University of Cambridge told NK News “It’s difficult to determine, at this point, whether the launch constitutes a success, but the range of the missile – with reports indicating that it has overflown Okinawa and landed well east of the Philippines may indicate that Pyongyang has succeeded in its ability to test a long-range rocket.”
“Japan’s decision not to intercept the missile in flight was doubtless a wise-one and will not have raised questions about the reliabilty of its missile defence capabilities in the first instance and the decision by Japan and the ROK leaderships to convene two separate national security meetings is a measure of the gravity of the situation.”
“It is likely that this will be seen as a success on the part of the North Korean leadership, which has again demonstrated its independence and ability to challenge and surprise the international community” said Swenson-Wright, who is also a Senior Consulting Fellow at Chatham House.
Nicholas Hamisevicz, Director of Research and Academic Affairs at the Korea Economic Institute in Washington D.C. said “The launch definitely indicates that Pyongyang has calculated that the immediate benefits from a launch outweigh the perceived gains they may receive in 2013.”
Asian stock markest have remained relatively stable following the news.
More details to follow on NK News. Follow us on Twitter @nknewsorg for more breaking news updates