SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea carried out “another important test” towards the development of a reconnaissance satellite, state media said yesterday, but analysts warned it was a thinly-veiled ballistic missile launch, just days before South Korea elects a new president.
From hypersonic to medium-range ballistic missiles, Pyongyang test-fired a string of banned weaponry in January and last week launched what it claimed was a component of a “reconnaissance satellite” – although Seoul described it as another ballistic missile.
North Korea is under biting international sanctions for its nuclear weapons programmes, but peaceful satellite launches are not subject to the same level of restrictions – although they use much of the same technology.
The development of a military reconnaissance satellite – along with the hypersonic weapons tested in January – is officially one of Pyongyang’s key defence projects, as outlined by leader Kim Jong-un last year.
“The DPRK National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) and the Academy of Defence Science conducted another important test on Saturday under the plan of developing a reconnaissance satellite,” KCNA news agency said.
“Through the test, the NADA confirmed the reliability of data transmission and reception system of the satellite, its control command system and various ground-based control systems,” it added.
South Korea said on Saturday that it believed the test – which came just days before the country votes to elect a new president on Wednesday – was a ballistic missile launch.
Pyongyang has doubled-down on leader Kim’s drive to modernise its military as it ignores United States (US) offers of talks and threatens to abandon a self-imposed moratorium on testing long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.
“Since satellites and ICBMs are the same inside and out, a satellite launch will take the Korean peninsula back to the peak of tensions it saw in 2017,” professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul Yang Moo-jin said.
But Yang added the two tests this month may also be a message to Washington – a way for Pyongyang to implicitly seek concessions so that North Korea does not have to cross the “red line” of an ICBM launch.