Japan said Monday that North Korea notified it of a plan to launch a "satellite" between Wednesday and June 11, with Tokyo expressing concern it may instead test a ballistic missile in what would be another step towards Pyongyang developing its nuclear and missile capabilities.
Pyongyang said it will outline three maritime danger zones in which objects may fall during the period, with two areas to the west of the Korean Peninsula and one to east of the Philippines, the Japan Coast Guard said. All areas are outside of Japan's exclusive economic zone.
North Korea's National Aerospace Development Administration said in December it will complete preparations for its first military reconnaissance satellite by this April, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
Emphasizing that Japan considers the launching of a rocket carrying a satellite as equivalent to that of a ballistic missile test on the basis of historical precedent, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that following through on the plan would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions that impose sanctions on North Korea for its weapons-related activity.
Kishida added the envisioned missile launch would be a "serious issue that affects the people's safety." He has instructed relevant ministries to urge Pyongyang to "exercise self-restraint," making the call in conjunction with the United States and South Korea.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said North Korea's decision to fire a missile poses a threat to peace and stability in the international community, describing the move as a "serious provocation."
Matsuno, the top government spokesman, also said the missile to be launched by North Korea could fly over Japan's territory, which includes the Nansei Islands that stretch southwest from Kyushu toward Taiwan.
North Korean authorities communicated the plan to the Japan Coast Guard through an email in the early hours of Monday, Matsuno said.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau chief Takehiro Funakoshi agreed with his South Korean and U.S. counterparts, Kim Gunn and Sung Kim, to join hands to deal with the notified missile launch during their phone talks later Monday.
On April 18, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un instructed his country's space agency to make final preparations for the satellite's launch, KCNA reported.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada subsequently ordered the Self-Defense Forces to be in a state of elevated readiness for the possibility of a North Korean rocket flying over or falling into Japanese territory.
The SDF has deployed ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptor missiles on the three remote islands of Miyako, Ishigaki and Yonaguni in the southern island prefecture of Okinawa.
On Monday, Hamada ordered the SDF to destroy a missile fired by North Korea using the PAC-3 system and Aegis-equipped destroyer warships, if it is expected to cross into Japanese territory.
In 1998, North Korea launched a rocket carrying what it claimed to be a satellite, but many considered the projectile to be a Taepodong-1 ballistic missile.
Part of the rocket flew over the Japanese archipelago and landed in the Pacific Ocean, prompting Tokyo to step up efforts to build a missile shield.
North Korea in 2016 fired a long-range rocket in defiance of repeated international warnings, after notifying the International Maritime Organization of a plan to launch an observation satellite.
As North Korea has notified its launch window four times in the past, it has fired a "satellite" within three days of the opening day of the designated periods.
Among them, Pyongyang launched a ballistic missile on the first day in February 2016 and on the second day in April 2009 and April 2012 as well as on the third day in December 2012.
The nation is believed to take into account factors such as weather conditions to make a final decision on the launch date.
The latest notification came after Kishida pledged on Saturday to establish senior-level negotiations to realize talks with Kim "at the earliest opportunity" to seek the return of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s.
Asked about the matter by reporters, Kishida underlined that he has not changed his position and will not do so even if North Korea fires a ballistic missile.
Meanwhile, China, North Korea's most influential security ally, has shied away from criticizing Pyongyang's planned launch of a satellite, saying military pressures and sanctions levied by Western nations are the "cause of tensions" on the Korean Peninsula.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters in Beijing on Monday, "We hope that relevant countries can achieve meaningful dialogue and resolve their respective concerns in a balanced manner," without singling out the United States.