News / Asia

S. Korean President Taking North Threats 'Very Seriously'

A South Korean soldier walks up the stairs at an observation post, near the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul, March 12, 2013. A South Korean soldier walks up the stairs at an observation post, near the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul, March 12, 2013.
A South Korean soldier walks up the stairs at an observation post, near the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul, March 12, 2013.
A South Korean soldier walks up the stairs at an observation post, near the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul, March 12, 2013.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye, says she is taking “very seriously” the continuing stream of threats from the North that many fear could lead to hostilities on the peninsula.

“There should be a strong response in initial combat without any political consideration” if North Korea launches a provocation against the South,” said Park  during a meeting with her defense minister and senior officials of the Ministry of National Defense.

During a briefing for the president, the ministry outlined a new plan allowing the military to launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea should an imminent nuclear or missile attack on the South be detected, including pushing forward the deployment of a “kill chain” system designed to detect, target and destroy missiles.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to expand his nuclear arsenal.

Speaking to the central committee of the workers' party Sunday, Kim laid down a “new strategic line,” saying that under no circumstances would North Korea's nuclear weapons be a bargaining chip in the political or economic arena.

Members of North Korea's legislature, the Supreme People's Assembly, gathered Monday in Pyongyang.  According to North Korea's news agency, Monday's meeting approved a new law that consolidates the country's position as a nuclear weapons state for "self-defense." The ordinance calls for North Korea to "take practical steps to bolster up the nuclear deterrence and nuclear retaliatory strike power both in  quality and quantity to cope with the gravity of the escalating danger of the  hostile forces' aggression and attack."

The news agency also announced that Pak Pong Ju, believed to favor China-style economic reforms, will replace Choe Yong Rim as premier.  Pak was removed from the same post in 2007.

  • South Korean soldiers patrol along a barbed-wire fence, near the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas in Paju, north of Seoul, April 5, 2013.
  • A couple looks at a map showing the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, at the Imjingak pavilion in Paju, north of Seoul, April 5, 2013.
  • U.S. Army Patriot missile air defence artillery batteries are seen at U.S. Osan air base in Osan, south of Seoul, April 5, 2013.
  • South Korean soldiers take part in military training near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, north of Seoul, April 4, 2013.
  • U.S. soldiers wear gas masks while attending a demonstration of their equipment during a ceremony to recognize the battalion's official return to the 2nd Infantry Division based in South Korea at Camp Stanley in Uijeongbu, north of Seoul, April 4, 2013.
  • South Korean vehicles turn back after being refused entry to Kaesong, North Korea, April 3, 2013.
  • Anti-war protesters raise signs during a rally denouncing the joint military drills between the South Korea and the United States near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, April 3, 2013.
  • North Koreans attend a rally against the United States and South Korea in Nampo, North Korea, April 3, 2013.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presides over a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang March 31, 2013 in this picture released by the North's official KCNA news agency.

Joint military exercises anger North

North Korea has reacted stridently in recent weeks to annual joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States.

Those drills have included unusual demonstrations of U.S. air power, including simulated long-range bombing runs by B-52 and B-2 strategic bombers.

On Sunday, a pair of U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jets flew from Kadena Air Base on the Japanese island of Okinawa to Osan Air Base, 65 kilometers south of Seoul. The stealth fighters are participating in the Foal Eagle exercise, which lasts until the end of this month.

“Despite challenges with fiscal constraints, training opportunities remain important to ensure U.S. forces are battle-ready and trained to employ air power to deter aggression, defend the ROK (Republic of Korea), and defeat any attack against the alliance," said U.S. Air Force Major Christopher Anderson, 18th Wing Public Affairs Chief, in an e-mail to the VOA Seoul bureau. "The F-22 demonstrates one of the many capabilities available for South Korea's defense," he said.

This month, South Korean marines are to stage four exercises together with the U.S. Marine Corps. The war games will include landings and maneuvering of mechanized units.

Warnings from Kim Jong Un

In recent weeks, Pyongyang has declared the 1953 armistice invalid, vowed to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the U.S. mainland and bases in the Pacific, cut a pair of hotlines with the South and declare a state of war to be in effect.

The moves followed United Nations Security Council approval of additional sanctions on Pyongyang following last December's long-range rocket launch and February's nuclear test -- the third by North Korea.

Despite the heated rhetoric from Pyongyang, which the White House says it takes seriously, there is no sense of panic in Seoul.

Thailand says their officials in Seoul have been asked to prepare an emergency evacuation plan of all Thai nationals in South Korea if hostilities erupt.

India Ambassador to South Korea Vishnu Prakash used Twitter to communicate his government's assessment of the situation to the thousands of Indian nationals in the country.

The ambassador's message provided a link to an advisory published online Monday that stressed nothing unusual was going on in South Korea and that “from all available indications, there is little likelihood of any imminent or active hostilities breaking out on the Korean peninsula."  It advised that the embassy would immediately alert the community by telephone or electronically, should there be any adverse development.

Diplomats eyeing Kaesong for clues
Diplomats from several countries have said they expect to act on their contingency plans only if Pyongyang closes the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a North-South joint venture facility just north of the demilitarized zone. Hundreds of South Korean managers supervise small factories there, in which thousands of North Korean workers assemble household goods.

Spokesman Kim Hyung-suk at the Unification Ministry, which is in charge of South-North relations, says the facility was still operating normally Monday.

“The government has a basic duty to protect its citizens and there is a full readiness posture for all contingencies,” Kim told reporters. However, “it is not appropriate to reveal details on how South Korea would respond to any given situation.”

Analysts say an unprecedented closure of the facility would be an ominous sign as it is a significant source of desperately needed hard currency for the impoverished and isolated North.

But North Korea, in a statement on Saturday, reversed the rationale for the industrial park, asserting Pyongyang was maintaining its operation primarily for the benefit of small South Korean companies.

A North Korean agency in charge of the complex, The Central Guidance to the Development of the Special Zone, warns that, if there is “any attempt to damage the dignity” of the country then it will “ruthlessly shut down” the joint facility.

The fate of the unique operation, established in 2002, “depends on the attitude of the South’s government,” according to the North Korean message.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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Comment Sorting
by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
April 01, 2013 12:28 PM
Parking so many self propelled guns so close, invities a strike by a big weapon, such concentrations are shear stupidity in times of high tensions.... let us hope none of the other forces are parked/concentrated so close together.
NKorea continue to make noise, let them vent, responding to their insane rants, just further boxes them in. Usually dogs that bark, do not bite; the allies need to continue on high alert, and doing their business; should avoid concentrations of equipment/forces; concentrating forces makes for an inviting target....

by: Stephen Real from: Columbia USA
April 01, 2013 11:28 AM
On the other hand...if Kim's new man comes with hat in hand? We could withhold their payments down to a month or less. Kid needs to learn if he wants his stipend he better ease the speed down or he gets nothing.

by: Stephen Real from: Columbia USA
April 01, 2013 10:09 AM
Time to shut down their charity manufacturing plant run by the South. Let's squeeze all the hard currency out of them for a couple of months for bad mouthing the US and South Korea. They need a serious financial spanking at least withhold their paychecks for 6 weeks. Bad boy! You get a timeout.

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