North Korea is under mounting international pressure to call off a planned rocket launch seen by the West as another missile test.
Meanwhile, Japan has placed its military on alert, with orders to shoot down any rocket that threatens its territory, Reuters reports.
North Korea told the United Nations on Tuesday that it is planning to launch an “earth observation satellite” between Feb. 8 and 25.
Pyongyang has said it has a sovereign right to pursue a space program but the United States and other governments suspect such rocket launches are missile tests.
Japanese Defence Minister Gen Nakatani has ordered the military to shoot down any “ballistic missile threat”.
Tensions rose in East Asia last month after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, this time claimed by Pyongyang to be a hydrogen bomb.
A rocket launch coming so soon after would raise concern that North Korea plans to fit nuclear warheads on its missiles, giving it the capability to launch a strike against South Korea, Japan and possibly targets as far away as the US West Coast.
North Korea last launched a long-range rocket in December 2012, sending an object it described as a communications satellite into orbit.
South Korea warned the North it would pay a “severe price” if it goes ahead with the launch.
Russia’s foreign ministry said Pyongyang was demonstrating “an outrageous disregard for the universally recognised norms of international law” while France said the launch would merit a firm response from the international community.
China, under US pressure to use its influence to rein in the isolated North, said Pyongyang’s right to space exploration was restricted under UN resolutions.
“We are extremely concerned about this,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a briefing on Wednesday.
“In the present situation, we hope North Korea exercises restraint on the issue of launching satellites, acts cautiously and does not take any escalatory steps that may further raise tensions on the Korean peninsula.”
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