Japan puts its missile defense system on alert while North Korea warns of a satellite launch

SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan on Monday put its ballistic missile defenses on alert and warned it would shoot down any projectile threatening its territory after North Korea told it to launch a satellite between May 31 and June 11.

Nuclear-armed North Korea says it has completed its first military spy satellite and leader Kim Jong Un has approved final preparations for the launch.

“The government is aware that there is a possibility that the satellite may pass through our country’s territory,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a regular briefing after North Korea informed the Japanese Coast Guard of the planned launch.

The order by the Japanese Ministry of Defense, the first in response to a North Korean space launch since 2016, comes after Japan in April sent a destroyer carrying Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors to the East China Sea that can strike targets in space, and PAC-3 ground-based missiles, designed to hit warheads closer to Earth, were sent to the Okinawa Islands.

A Japanese Defense Ministry spokesman said that Japan expects North Korea to launch the missile carrying its satellite over the southwestern island chain as it did in 2016.

North Korea’s state media has criticized plans by its foes, South Korea, the United States and Japan, to share real-time data on their missile launches, describing the three as discussing “vicious measures” to closer military cooperation.

Analysts say the satellite is part of a surveillance technology programme, which includes drones, and aims to improve its ability to strike targets in the event of war.

North Korea’s state news agency KCNA reported that in May Kim inspected a military satellite facility.

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North Korea has conducted a series of missile launches and weapons tests in recent months, including a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that any North Korean missile launch would be a serious violation of UN Security Council resolutions condemning its nuclear and missile activity.

“We strongly urge North Korea to refrain from the launch,” his office posted on Twitter, adding that it would cooperate with its ally the United States, South Korea and other countries, and would do everything in its power to collect and analyze information from any launch.

(Reporting by Hyunsoo Yim in Seoul and Nobuhiro Kubo, Elaine Lies, Satoshi Sugiyama and Tim Kelly in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Jo Min Park in Seoul and David Dolan in Tokyo; Editing by Diane Craft, Howard Guler and Robert Purcell

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