By Tony Munroe
North Korea’s test-firing of a ballistic missile from a submarine was “very serious and concerning”, South Korea said on Monday, with one defence official suggesting Pyongyang could have a fully operational platform in two or three years.
Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency said on Saturday North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, oversaw the test-launch of the missile from an offshore location. Such a development could pose a new threat to the isolated country’s neighbours and the United States.
“We urge North Korea to immediately stop developing SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles), which hinder the stability of the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia,” Kim Min-seok, spokesman for South Korea’s defence ministry, told reporters on Monday.
He said North Korea still needed time to develop additional equipment in order to make its submarine-launched missile system fully operational.
However, a South Korean defence official said North Korea could develop a fully operational submarine with ballistic missiles within two or three years.
The official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said photographs from North Korea showing a rocket launched from the sea appeared to be authentic.
China, North Korea’s only major ally, described the situation on the Korean peninsula as “very complex and sensitive.”
“We hope that all relevant parties can do more to ameliorate the tense situation, and jointly maintain peace and stability,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.
North Korea’s state media often boasts of successful military and space accomplishments, including the launch of a functional communications satellite, which are not independently verified by outside experts.
It is believed to have launched a long-range rocket and put an object into orbit in December 2012, defying scepticism and international warnings not to pursue such a programme, which could be used to develop intercontinental missiles.
North Korea, already heavily sanctioned by the United Nations for its missile and nuclear tests, is technically still at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.