On Tuesday the South Korean and other regional governments urgently reported that an unknown projectile had been launched from North Korea. Soon after, it emerged that this was the highly sanctioned country's first ever successful launch of a military spy satellite into orbit.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is now hailing a "new era of a space power" with the Malligyong-1 now reportedly in orbit. Crucially, Pyongyang is claiming that within a mere hours after the launch, Kim was reviewing images of American military bases in Guam.
"During a visit to a satellite control center in Pyongyang, Kim observed satellite images of Andersen Air Force Base, Apra Harbor and other major U.S. military bases, reported the official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA," as cited in US-funded VOA News.
KCNA quoted Kim as saying the launch was a "full-fledged exercise of the right to self-defense" and which is necessary to protect North Korea from the "dangerous and aggressive moves of hostile forces."
The DPRK is openly celebrating the launch, clearly meant as a thumb in the eye to the West and its far-reaching sanctions regimen:
The launch, banned under United Nations sanctions designed to rein in the nuclear-armed country’s ballistic missiles programme, has further ratcheted up tension on the peninsula with Seoul partially suspending and Pyongyang completely suspending the 2018 joint military agreement that was supposed to stabilize cross-border relations.
This marked the third launch this year, with the prior two having failed. But Kim now says he wants to see "many more" spy satellites, which he envisions will be placed on "on different orbits" for the purpose of better monitoring US and other foreign forces in the region.
Given the recent meeting in September of Kim and Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and the series of top-level visits and exchanges of military delegations, there are suspicions that Pyongyang is receiving help from Moscow for its spy satellite program.
While the West has condemned North Korea's several attempted satellite launches, Pyongyang has in turn been outraged at the US parking nuclear-powered naval assets in regional waters and in South Korean ports. For example, the US nuclear-powered submarine USS Santa Fe is currently docked at a South Korean port. And this week, the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier arrived at Busan.