North Korea's attempted launch of its first spy satellite into space on Wednesday came at a critical time, as South Korea has been bolstering its military cooperation with the US and Japan to curb the reclusive regime's missile ambitions. But such an attempt by Pyongyang will only enhance security cooperation between Seoul and the two security partners, experts say.
“The primary catalyst behind the efforts to restore relations between (South) Korea and Japan has been North Korea's threats,” said Park Won-gon, a professor in the department of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University. “In the face of continued provocations, the three nations will further strengthen their unity.”
Threats posed by the North may accelerate trilateral cooperation even in the realms of space and cyber technologies, Park said.
Seoul's chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Gunn, and his US and Japanese counterparts, Sung Kim and Takehiro Funakoshi, respectively, delivered the joint message that the three countries agreed to continue close communication and coordination so that the international community can respond decisively and united in the event of additional provocations by North Korea, while maintaining a solid South Korea-US combined defense posture.
A day prior to the launch, the Foreign Ministry issued a warning, cautioning that if North Korea proceeded with the launch, it would face consequences.
In order to punish the North, “(South) Korea, the US and Japan are anticipated to enhance their cooperation to prevent the influx of goods and funds into North Korea,” said Moon Seong-mook, a former general who now heads the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.
"North Korea has been involved in illicit trade, illegal transshipment and cyber theft of virtual currency. Stricter measures are expected to be implemented to thwart these activities," he said. "Through collaboration with the United States and Japan, the (South Korean) government is also expected to endeavor to persuade other nations to bolster their own sanctions against North Korea."
Moon said the three countries are also expected to institutionalize the missile warning information agreed upon in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in November last year, and a more specific implementation plan will be developed at a meeting of defense ministers of Korea, the United States and Japan in Singapore later this week.
According to Hong Min, a senior researcher at the North Korean research division of the Korea Institute for National Unification, "If North Korea succeeds in developing spy satellite capabilities, it would enable them to monitor the military activities and collaborations between (South) Korea, the US and Japan. In that case, we must be prepared to address how we can enhance the concealment and improvement of our military facilities."
Hours after North Korea fired a space vehicle launch, South Korea's presidential office issued a written statement that an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, led by national security adviser Cho Tae-yong, had been convened for Pyongyang's “launch of a long-range ballistic missile in the name of a so-called satellite.”
The committee members denounced the launch as "a significant provocation endangering peace and security" both on the Korean Peninsula and globally. They resolved to uphold "a collaborative stance with allied and friendly nations" while remaining vigilant regarding the potential for further missile launches by North Korea.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has joined in condemning North Korea's military satellite launch, asserting that any launch conducted by Pyongyang utilizing ballistic missile technology was “contrary” to the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
The White House issued a statement expressing strong condemnation of North Korea's actions. It urged all nations to denounce the launch and called on the North to engage in meaningful negotiations.
Some experts, including Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korea Studies, have raised concerns regarding the escalating power struggle between North Korea and South Korea's allies and partners. The current approach of South Korea, the United States, and Japan seems to prioritize pressuring North Korea rather than seeking resolution through dialogue. "A more effective approach to addressing the issues on the Korean Peninsula would involve increased dialogue and cooperation for peace, rather than solely focusing on security cooperation."