North Korea’s rocket launch, after which the country said it has ‘successfully put a satellite into orbit’, has been widely condemned as a ballistic missile test for a weapons delivery system to strike the US mainland.
The launch, which violated multiple resolutions of the United Nations, amounted to the country doubling down against major world powers already struggling to punish Pyongyang for its hydrogen bomb test.
There was no immediate external confirmation that the final stage of the satellite-bearing rocket had successfully achieved orbit, although a US defence official said the launch vehicle ‘appears to have reached space’.
An earlier unconfirmed report from South Korea’s Yonhap news agency had suggested the second stage may have malfunctioned.
In a special state TV broadcast, it was announced that the launch, personally ordered by leader Kim Jong-Un, had ‘successfully put our Earth observation satellite Kwangmyong 4 into orbit’.
While stressing that the launch represented the legitimate exercise of North Korea’s right to the ‘peaceful and independent’ use of space, the female announcer also noted that it marked a ‘breakthrough in boosting our national defence capability’.
North Korea’s scientists would work towards further satellite launches in the future, she added.
Condemnation from the international community was swift, with the United States calling the launch ‘destabilising and provocative’ and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slammed it as ‘absolutely intolerable’.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon denounced the launch and asked North Korea to halt its ‘provocative actions’ and return to compliance with its international obligations.
Condemning the launch as ‘deeply deplorable’, the UN chief said it was in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
’It is deeply deplorable that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has conducted a launch using ballistic missile technology in violation of relevant Security Council resolutions despite the united plea of the international community against such an act,’ Ban said in a statement.
In New York, diplomats said the UN Security Council would meet in emergency session later on Sunday.
China, which is North Korea’s sole major ally and main trading partner, also ‘expressed regret’ over the launch. The relations between the two have been strained in recent years by Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear programme.
‘With regards to the DPRK’s insistence on implementing a launch of missile technology in the face of international opposition, China expresses regret,’ foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying was quoted as saying on the ministry’s website.
Russia also condemned North Korea's launch, saying the move was a serious blow to regional security.
Condemning the launch as a ‘senseless provocation’, France called for a ‘rapid and tough’ response from the UN Security Council.
'France condemns with the utmost firmness the new flagrant violation by North Korea of the resolutions of the Security Council,' the presidential Elysee Palace said in a statement.
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said the Council should respond quickly with ‘strong punitive measures’ against what she called a grave challenge to global peace and security.
The pre-orbital flight arc of the rocket, carrying an Earth observation satellite, was planned to traverse the Yellow Sea and further south to the Philippine Sea, with both South Korea and Japan threatening to shoot it down if it encroached on their territory.
Multiple UN Security Council resolutions proscribe North Korea’s development of its ballistic missile programme.
Despite Pyongyang’s insistence on a peaceful space mission, its rockets are considered dual-use technology with both civil and military applications.
The United States, along with allies like South Korea and Japan, had warned Pyongyang it would pay a heavy price for pushing ahead with launch, but analysts said the North’s timing was carefully calculated to minimise the repercussions.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidates lashed out at President Barack Obama and his former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who is aspiring to succeed him, for the North Korean missile test which, they said, is the result of their ‘incompetence’.
“I think we have a president who is totally incompetent, and he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I think he has no idea what he’s doing. And our country is going to hell,” Donald Trump, the front runner Republican presidential candidate said.
Trump said he would get on with China, and solve that problem.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who had an impressive performance in the Iowa Caucus and is being billed as the Republican establishment candidate, agreed with Trump that China does have a lot of influence over North Korea.
“And he (Obama) should be leveraging our relationship with the Chinese to ensure that North Korea no longer has access to the resources that have allowed them to develop long range missiles already capable of reaching the west coast of the United States potentially,” he said.