South Korea said it will strike back at North Korea and target its top leadership if Pyongyang launches a threatened attack in response to what it says are “hostile” drills between US and South Korean forces.
Top North Korean General Kim Yong-chol, in a rare appearance on state television on Tuesday, said Pyongyang had torn up its armistice deal with Washington and threatened military action against the US and South Korea if the drills went ahead.
Tensions have ratcheted higher across the Korean Peninsula since Pyongyang, under North Korean leader Kim Jong-un launched a long-range rocket in December last year.
He followed this with a third nuclear test on Feb. 12, triggering the prospect of more UN sanctions that are due to be formally announced today after the US and China, the North’s one major ally, struck a deal to punish Pyongyang.
At the same time, North Korea has stepped up military threats against South Korea and the US.
North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric rarely goes beyond that and although Kim Yong-hyun opted for measured tones rather than Pyongyang’s usual harsh wording, the general is believed to have masterminded the sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010 that killed 46 sailors, experts on the North say. Kim Yong-hyun is believed to have also had a hand in the shelling of a South Korean island the same year that killed two civilians.
“The message behind putting somebody like Kim [Yong-hyun] up there to make that statement is clearly to escalate tensions,” said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute of Defence Analyses, a government-affiliated think tank in Seoul.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has pledged to engage with the North if it drops its nuclear plans.
The proposed sanctions would ban the sale to Pyongyang of items coveted by the ruling elite, such as yachts and racing cars, a UN diplomat said.
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said the new sanctions would target “the illicit activities of North Korean diplomatic personnel, North Korean banking relationships [and] illicit transfers of bulk cash.”
North Korea was slapped with sanctions in 2006 that banned the import of a range of luxury goods after its first nuclear test in a bid to hit the high life of the Kim family.
China has backed all rounds of sanctions, risking relations with its prickly ally.
Chinese Ambassador to the UN Li Baodong (李保東) said that the Security Council was aiming for a vote today on a draft resolution agreed on by Washington and Beijing after weeks of negotiations.
The Republic of China (ROC) is following the situation on the Korean Peninsula closely, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Calvin Ho (何震寰) said yesterday.
“The ROC supports the goals of denuclearization in the Asia-Pacific region and of peacefully resolving conflicts on the Korean Peninsula to avoid impacting peace,” Ho said.
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan