North Korea yesterday marked the third anniversary of an artillery attack on a South Korean island with a vow to respond to what it called any similar provocation with a strike on the South Korean presidential compound.
North Korea fired scores of artillery shells at South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23, 2010, killing four people including two civilians in one of the heaviest attacks on its neighbor since the Korean War ended in 1953.
It took many months for tension between the rivals to ease, but it spiked again in March this year during annual joint military exercises by South Korea and the US.
North Korea, which has conducted three nuclear tests, threatened nuclear attacks against the allies.
The hostility has cooled since then, but the bellicose message on the anniversary of the Yeonpyeong attack is a reminder of North Korea’s unpredictability.
“Three years ago the retaliatory blow was confined to Yeonpyeong Island only, but this time Chongwadae and other bases of the puppet forces will be put within striking range,” a spokesman for North Korea’s military said, according to the North’s KCNA news agency.
The South Korean presidential compound in Seoul is known as Chongwadae in Korean and the Blue House in English.
In 2010, the North said it was provoked into attacking Yeonpyeong, which is off the peninsula’s west coast, because of a live-fire South Korean exercise in the area that dropped shells in its territorial waters.
Earlier in 2010, the North was widely blamed for infiltrating a submarine across the border and sinking a South Korean navy ship with a torpedo, killing 46 sailors.
North Korea denied that.
South Korea has strengthened its military presence in the area since 2010 with the deployment of GPS-guided missiles. It has vowed to strike back if hit again.
The maritime border, called the Northern Limit Line, separating the waters off the west coast, was unilaterally drawn at the end of the Korean War by the UN forces that fought for the South.
The North does not recognize the line and has demanded a redrawing of the demarcation.
Meanwhile, South Korea will buy 40 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 stealth fighter jets, the country’s military chiefs decided yesterday, with the first delivery expected in 2018, ending a drawn-out process to beef up the country’s defences.
A Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting agreed that South Korea would be best served by buying warplanes with the most advanced stealth technology and electronic warfare capability. Their decision will be put to a committee chaired by the minister of defense for final approval.
“What fits into modified requirement operational capabilities is limited to that model,” defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said when asked if the military would choose the F-35 given the revised requirements.
The decision sets in motion the South’s single biggest defense procurement.
South Korea was initially expected to give the green light to Boeing Co’s F-15, as the aircraft was only the bidder among three fighter jets in the race to fall within Seoul’s budget. Under South Korean law, only bids on or under budget are considered.
However, in September South Korea decided to re-examine the terms of the 8.3 trillion won (US$7.81 billion) tender to buy 60 fighter jets after rejecting Boeing’s bid.
At the time, South Korea mentioned its need for an advanced, radar-evading jet, later mirrored by the air force asking for enhanced technological requirements for the jets and bolstering the F-35’s chances.