As Japan launches first spy satellites, N Korean rhetoric also rises
The Jerusalem Post

28 March 2003

Japan's first spy satellites were blasted into orbit Friday, causing an angry North Korea to warn the move could spark an arms race in the region.

The two satellites, the first of at least four in Japan's 250 billion yen (US$2 billion) spy program, will give Tokyo its own means of watching its communist neighbor's long-range missile development and suspected nuclear weapons program.

They blasted off into clear but windy skies atop a black-and-orange H2-A rocket, Japan's main launch vehicle, from Tanegashima Space Center, a sprawling complex of launch pads on this rugged island about 1,200 kilometers (700 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

"It was a nearly flawless launch," said Shuichiro Yamanouchi, head of Japan's National Space Development Agency.

Friday's launch marked a milestone for Japan's space program, which had previously been limited to strictly non-military missions.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said: "I have high expectations that the satellites can now help boost our country's own information gathering capability."

In recent days, North Korea has stated that it views Japan's plans to launch satellites "a hostile activity" and a "grave threat". In a report by the North's KCNA news agency, Pyongyang said Japan's launch of its first two spy satellites violated a September declaration by the two countries' leaders to seek better ties.

"Japan will be held wholly responsible for sparking a new arms race in Northeast Asia," an unidentified spokesman of North Korea's Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying. The spokesman also said that Japan no longer has the right to demand that North Korea stop launching what it says are satellites.

In 1998, North Korea launched a projectile that flew over Japan and into the Pacific. This, it said, was not a missile, but an attempt to put a satellite into orbit.