North Korea will launch its first military reconnaissance satellite in June for monitoring U.S. activities, state media KCNA reported on Tuesday, drawing criticism over its potential use of banned missile technology.
Ri Pyong Chol, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the North's ruling Workers' Party, denounced ongoing joint military exercises by the U.S. and South Korea as openly showing "reckless ambition for aggression."
U.S. and South Korean forces have carried out various training exercises in recent months, including the biggest-ever live-fire exercises last week, after many drills were scaled back amid COVID-19 restrictions and diplomatic efforts with North Korea.
Ri said the drills required Pyongyang to have the "means capable of gathering information about the military acts of the enemy in real time."
"We will comprehensively consider the present and future threats and put into more thoroughgoing practice the activities for strengthening all-inclusive and practical war deterrents," Ri said in the statement carried by the KCNA news agency.
Nuclear-armed North Korea has said it has completed development of its first military spy satellite, and leader Kim Jong Un has approved final preparations for the launch.
The statement did not specify the exact launch date, but North Korea has notified Japan of a planned launch between May 31 and June 11, prompting Tokyo to put its ballistic missile defences on alert.
Japan has said it would shoot down any projectile that threatens its territory.
"Even if North Korea might call it a 'satellite', this is a violation of relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit North Korea from all launches using the ballistic missile technology," Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told a news conference on Tuesday.
South Korea's foreign ministry also slammed the North's use of ballistic missile technology as a clear violation of the U.N. sanctions, saying Ri was making a "farfetched excuse" to bolster its weapons programmes.
"It is a nonsense to use our legitimate joint training and combined defence posture with the U.S., which were to respond to North Korea's advanced nuclear and missile threats, as an excuse for launching a reconnaissance satellite," ministry spokesman Lim Soo-suk told a briefing.
Lim urged Pyongyang to drop its plan, and vowed to sternly respond any launches.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said on Monday any North Korean launch using ballistic missile technology, including for a satellite, would violate U.N. resolutions.
The launch would be the North's latest in a series of missile launches and weapons tests, including one of a new, solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile last month.
Analysts say the satellite will improve North Korea's surveillance capability, enabling it to strike targets more accurately in the event of war. (Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi; Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Editing by Leslie Adler, Grant McCool and Gerry Doyle)