North Korea on Wednesday said it had successfully put a satellite into orbit after launching a long-range rocket, in a move that has reignited regional tensions and was condemned by neighbours as a provocative missile-test. The launch was the North’s second attempt this year under the rule of Kim Jong-un, who took over following the death of his father Kim Jong-il.

The test was hailed as a groundbreaking success by State media, and was seen by analysts as likely strengthening the new leader’s position even as the country grapples with a dire economic situation.

Surprise

The initial success of the launch — confirmed by U.S. and South Korean monitoring agencies — was seen as a surprise, coming after the North, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), cited technical problems last week and extended the launch window to December 29. A launch in April — the first under Kim Jong-un — ended in failure after the rocket broke apart minutes after taking off.

That the North — which maintains that the launch was only aimed at putting a satellite into orbit and was not a missile test — has appeared to master the technology to launch a long-range missile brought anxious reactions from South Korea and Japan, which say the move is a disguised missile test that has flouted Security Council resolutions.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the launch, describing it as “a clear violation” of the 2009 resolution that banned the North from carrying out tests using ballistic missile technology.

He said the Security Council would discuss the launch at a scheduled meeting on Wednesday.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency meeting, with the South Korean Defence Ministry saying in a statement that it saw the launch as a violation of the U.N. resolution.

“South Korea and the U.S. will maintain a firm deterrence posture and closely monitor further provocations as well as closely cooperate with the international community,” said the statement.

The U.S. described the launch as “a provocative action”, while Japan’s Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said the government had officially protested the launch to the DPRK and had called for the UNSC to take a tough stand. Whether the Security Council will do so, remains unclear. China, the North’s closest ally, adopted a more measured reaction.

Concern

While Beijing had earlier expressed concern over the North’s actions, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told a briefing that China “believes the Security Council’s response should be cautious and moderate, protect the overall peaceful and stable situation on the Korean peninsula, and avoid an escalation of the situation”.

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