SEOUL, South Korea — North Koreans celebrated its launch of a satellite into orbit with an official fireworks display Monday tonight in Pyongyang, state broadcaster KCTV reported.
“We hope that the future of our space technology keeps growing and shines like these fireworks in the sky,” an announcer on the North Korean broadcaster said during coverage of the celebrations in the capital.
An official from North Korea’s space agency, the National Aerospace Development Administration, struck a defiant note in a speech at the celebrations, vowing the country would continue developing its aerospace technology in the face of international sanctions.
Sunday’s launch of the long-range rocket triggered a wave of international condemnation and prompted strong reaction from an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
North Korea maintained the launch was for scientific and “peaceful purposes,” but other nations widely viewed it as a front to test a ballistic missile, especially coming on the heels of a purported hydrogen bomb test last month.
Pyongyang carried out both acts in defiance of international sanctions.
South Korea recovered about 270 pieces of debris, believed to have come from the rocket launch, from the ocean Sunday and is working to analyze the objects, a South Korean Defense Ministry official told CNN.
At an emergency meeting Sunday, members of the Security Council “strongly condemned” the launch and reaffirmed that “a clear threat to international peace and security continues to exist, especially in the context of the nuclear test.”
It vowed to undertake punitive actions against North Korea, announcing plans to “adopt expeditiously a new Security Council resolution with such measures in response to these dangerous and serious violations,” according to a statement read by Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations after the meeting.
Sanctions already in place against Pyongyang ban it from working with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, blacklist certain figures and organizations and prohibit the import of luxury goods.
Warning shots fired
South Korean President Park Geun-hye called the launch a “challenge to world peace,” while her government announced it would begin talks with the United States to deploy a defense system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, which can intercept missiles in flight.
It also planned to reduce the personnel at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint economic development zone between the two Koreas, from 650 to 500 “in consideration of safety of our people,” the South Korean Unification Ministry said.
South Korea fired warning shots Monday morning after a North Korean patrol boat crossed the maritime border between the Koreas, the South Korean Defense Ministry said.
The North Korean boat withdrew about 20 minutes later, the ministry said.
Such incidents are not uncommon, CNN’s Paula Hancocks reports. But the timing of this one — so soon after North Korea’s rocket launch — will likely bring additional scrutiny to the incident, she said.
Satellite in orbit
The Kwangmyongsong carrier rocket blasted off from the Sohae launch facility at 9 a.m. Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday), entering orbit nine minutes and 46 seconds after liftoff, North Korea’s state news agency KCNA reported.
A state TV newsreader said that the launch had been personally ordered and directed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who was pictured smiling in official photographs as he oversaw the launch, and that more satellite launches were planned.
A senior U.S. defense official said the rocket headed toward space and, based on its trajectory over the Yellow Sea, “did not pose a threat to the U.S. or our allies.”
At least two new objects have been detected in Earth’s orbit and are being tracked, a spokesman for U.S. Strategic Command told CNN on Sunday. The objects appeared to be the satellite and the final stage of the rocket booster, said arms control expert David Wright, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Global Security Program.
Japan’s analysis indicated parts of the rocket fell in four locations offshore after takeoff, the Japanese Prime Minister’s office said via Twitter.
A South Korean lawmaker said Sunday that intelligence suggested the launch had likely been timed to coincide with the Super Bowl and Chinese New Year to maximize international media impact.
“The date of the launch appears to be in consideration of the weather condition and ahead of the Lunar New Year and the U.S. Super Bowl,” said Jo Ho-young, chairman of the South Korean National Assembly Intelligence Committee.
The United States, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France, the European Union and NATO issued statements condemning the launch.
China summoned North Korea’s ambassador to protest Pyongyang’s launch, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
It also criticized the plans for South Korean-U.S. missile defense system talks and summoned the South Korean ambassador over the matter.
Satellite — or nuclear missile?
At present, North Korea is believed to have one satellite in orbit, the Kwangmyongsong 3-2, though doubts have been raised about whether it is functioning.
U.S. officials have said the same type of rocket used for Sunday’s launch could deliver a nuclear warhead.
China, the Soviet Union and the United States all used intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, to launch satellites in the past. During the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union used ICBMs as warhead delivery systems as well as in the early development of their space programs.
The Unha rocket used to launch North Korea’s last satellite is believed to be based on the Taepodong long-range ballistic missile, which has an estimated range of around 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers).
That would put Australia, much of Western Europe and the U.S. West Coast in range of a North Korean warhead.
According to experts, North Korea has at least a dozen and perhaps as many as 100 nuclear weapons, though at present it lacks sophisticated delivery mechanisms.
Increased pressure on China
The launch will heighten international pressure on China, North Korea’s biggest foreign investor, to do more.
Wary of creating a refugee crisis should Kim’s regime collapse, China has been unwilling to implement sanctions that would really put a choke on North Korea’s economy.
“Sanctions are definitely not the aim,” an editorial published Sunday by Chinese state news agency Xinhua said. It did, however, note that Foreign Minister Wang Yi would “continue to exercise strategic composure and play a constructive role in helping seek a solution to the peninsular conundrum.”
Alison Evans, senior analyst for Asia-Pacific at IHS Country Risk, said that Pyongyang had likely calculated that by carrying out the rocket launch so soon after the January 6 nuclear test — before the international community had responded to the latter with new sanctions — it might face less severe repercussions than if the launch and test were responded to individually.
However, she said, there’s not a lot more the international community can do to sanction Pyongyang.
“There are some things that haven’t yet been touched upon, like North Korean labor exported abroad, which brings in a lot of foreign currency for the North Korean government,” she said.
“But if anything, it would be China’s implementation of existing sanctions that would tighten the screws on North Korea.”