North Korea missiles
North Korea's imminent long-range rocket launch angers South Korea, Japan and the US Getty

South Korean authorities have warned North Korea it would pay a heavy price if it goes ahead with its long-range rocket launch in the coming days. Urging Pyongyang to cancel the imminent launch, Seoul said it would further bolster its military forces along with the US so as to combat the threats emerging from the North.

Tensions in the Korean Peninsula simmered after a defiant North Korea formally notified the UN that it would launch an Earth observation satellite between 8 and 25 February. The payload is officially designated as Kwangmyongsong, translated as Lodestar, by North Korea. However, the launch is widely regarded as a covert programme to test its ballistic missile technology — a direct violation of UN regulations.

Soon after the announcement, South Korea convened a top-level National Security Council meeting to discuss how to deal with the planned launch. "North Korea should withdraw its plan for a launch," said Cho Tae-yong, deputy chief of the presidential office of national security. "We sternly warn that North Korea will pay a harsh price," he said, without mentioning the specifics of what actions would be taken.

South Korea's Defence Minister Han Min-koo also reiterated that the threats from the neighbouring North remain a top priority. Han in a meeting with top defence officials said: "Military tensions are continuing after North Korea's recent fourth nuclear test. North Korea has further escalated tensions on the Korean Peninsula with its notification of a long-range missile launch at a time when the United Nations is discussing punitive sanctions."

The first stage will fall in the waters off the west coast of South Korea while the second stage will find the waters near the Philippines, if the rocket is successfully launched by the North as planned.

Pyongyang's notification has angered all adversaries, including the US and Japan — which quickly responded by condemning the plans. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday (3 February): "If North Korea goes ahead and launches the rocket, it would clearly violate UN security council resolutions and pose a serious provocation." The announcement comes at a time when the countries are already drafting a fresh UN Security Council resolution to penalise the North for its recent nuclear test on 6 January.