South Korea will strike back quickly if the North stages any attack, the new president in Seoul warned yesterday, as tensions ratcheted higher on the Korean Peninsula amid shrill rhetoric from Pyongyang and the US deployment of radar-evading fighter planes.
North Korea says the region is on the brink of a nuclear war in the wake of UN sanctions imposed for its February nuclear test and a series of joint US and South Korean military drills that have included a rare US show of aerial power.
The North appeared to move yesterday to addres its pressing need for investment by appointing a reformer to the country’s ceremonial prime minister’s job, although the move mostly cemented a power grab by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s clan.
North Korea had said on Saturday it was entering a “state of war” with South Korea in response to what it termed the “hostile” military drills being staged in the South.
“If there is any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be a strong response in initial combat without any political considerations,” South Korean President Park Geun-hye told the defense minister and senior officials at a meeting yesterday.
The South has changed its rules of engagement to allow local units to respond immediately to attacks, rather than waiting for permission from Seoul.
Stung by criticism that its response to the shelling of a South Korean island in 2010 was tardy and weak, Seoul has also threatened to target Kim Jong-un and to destroy statues of the ruling Kim dynasty in the event of any new attack, a plan that has outraged Pyongyang.
Park’s intervention came on the heels of a meeting of the North’s ruling Workers Party Central Committee where Kim Jong-un rejected the notion that Pyongyang was going to use its nuclear arms development as a bargaining chip.
“The nuclear weapons of Songun Korea are not goods for getting US dollars and they are ... [not] to be put on the table of negotiations aimed at forcing the [North] to disarm itself,” Korean Central News Agency quoted him as saying.
At the meeting, Kim appointed a handful of personal confidants to the party’s politburo, further consolidating his grip on power in the second full year of his reign.
The most surprising appointment came yesterday as former North Korean prime minister Pak Pong-ju was reappointed as prime minister, although the move likely signalled another power struggle in Pyongang staged by Kim Jong-un.
Pak is viewed as a key ally of Jang Song-thaek, the young Kim’s uncle and also a protege of Kim’s aunt and is viewed as a pawn in a power game that has seen Jang and his wife reassert power over military leaders.
Analysts said the move would not likely change Pyongyang’s approach to a confrontation that appears to have dragged the two Koreas closer to war.