N.Korean official confirms 'satellite' launch in June

A top military official in North Korea has confirmed that the country will launch what it calls an artificial satellite in June. The Japanese government suspects the plan could be a pretext for testing a ballistic missile.

Ri Pyong Chol, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party, issued a statement on Tuesday.

It comes after Pyongyang told the Japan Coast Guard that the launch would take place sometime between May 31 and June 11.

Ri says the launch will be indispensable for tracking the "dangerous military acts of the US and its vassal forces" in real time. He added that it will help to strengthen the preparedness of the North's armed forces.

If North Korea does go ahead with the plan, it will violate UN Security Council resolutions that ban the country from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology.

The United States and South Korea have been holding major live-fire drills since Thursday. Ri accused the allies of raising military tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in surrounding areas.

North Korea last launched what was believed to be a long-range ballistic missile under the guise of a satellite back in February 2016.

North Korea launched what it called a satellite in 2016.

Kim overseas preparations

Leader Kim Jong Un reportedly inspected a military reconnaissance satellite about two weeks ago.

The ruling Worker's Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun quoted him as saying the North will more offensively exercise its sovereignty and right to self-defense.

But the timing of the launch remained undisclosed.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter look at what is reportedly a spy satellite on May 16.

On Wednesday, officials at US-based research group 38 North released satellite images of a launch site in Tongchang-ri on North Korea's west coast.

They say construction of a new launch pad is "moving forward at a remarkable pace."

38 North has released images of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. They were taken between April 30 and May 23.

Launch station evades demolition

North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile from the Sohae station in April 2012. It was the country's first carried out under the pretext of a satellite launch.

After the first-ever US-North Korea summit in 2018, President Donald Trump said Pyongyang had promised to demolish the facility.

And a joint declaration following an inter-Korean summit in September that year stipulated the site would be permanently dismantled in the presence of external experts.

Instead, Kim has ordered his regime to renovate and expand the station so that it can launch military reconnaissance satellites using large rockets.

Japan on alert

Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu speaks to reporters on Monday in Tokyo.

North Korea's plan is causing alarm in Japan. Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu has ordered the Self-Defense Forces to destroy any incoming ballistic missiles.

On Tuesday, he said the government will do all it can to monitor the launch. And he was quick to point out that Pyongyang looks poised to violate UNSC resolutions.

"Based on precedent, we presume it will be a ballistic missile," said Hamada, adding that the government will respond by closely coordinating with countries including the US and South Korea.

China calls for dialogue

Officials in China appear far less concerned than their counterparts in Tokyo, Washington and Seoul.

In Beijing on Monday, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said the longstanding tensions on the Korean Peninsula should ultimately be resolved at the negotiating table.

She urged all relevant parties to "stick to the direction of a political settlement, and address their legitimate concerns in a balanced manner through meaningful dialogue."