Japan warns North Korea against the planned rocket launch
Japan on Friday warned North Korea, who plans to launch a rocket in April, that it can legally shoot down any threatening object if it falls towards its territory.
North Korea announced its plans to launch a communications satellite into orbit between April 4 and 8, according to the New York Times. The rocket used will fly over Japan and drop fuel stages into the Pacific.
According coordinates Pyongyang provided to the United Nations, the Associated Press reported the rocket's first stage is expected to fall less than 75 miles from Japan's northwestern shore. The second stage should fall in the Pacific between Japan and Hawaii.
The AP reported that the U.S. and other governments have warned North Korea that any rocket launch would violate a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution banning the country from ballistic missile activity. This resolution also banned North Korea from nuclear tests and came after the country detonated its first nuclear device.
The New York Times reported the neighboring countries considered the launch a cover for testing North Korea's Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile.
"Legally speaking, if this object falls toward Japan, we can shoot it down for safety reasons," Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura told AP.
After a North Korean missile flew over its territory in 1998, Japan has been developing a missile defense system with the United States.
Lance Gatling, an independent defense analyst, told AP that Japan is capable of intercepting a medium-range missile, but the rocket expected to fire next month will be a long-range rocket.
If successful, the rocket will fly over Japan instead of falling towards it. The New York Times reported North Korea has said it will consider any attempt to intercept the rocket "an act of war" and will attack the interceptors.
Paik Hak-soon, a North Korea expert at Sejong Institute near Seoul, told AP that if the launch is successful, it will provide the North an upper hand in future negotiations because it will show that the country has "a delivery vehicle for its nuclear weapons."