Business Day

North Korea ‘likely to use anniversar­ies’ to show off military power


SOUTH Korea said yesterday there was a “very high” probabilit­y that North Korea, engaged in weeks of threats of war, could launch a medium-range missile at any time as a show of strength, despite diplomatic efforts to soften its position.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said South Korea had asked China and Russia to intercede with the North to ease tension that has mounted since the United Nations Security Council slapped fresh sanctions on Pyongyang after a new nuclear arms test in February.

But all was calm in the South Korean capital, Seoul, long used to North Korean invective under its 30year-old leader Kim Jong-un. Offices worked normally and customers crowded into city-centre cafes.

Seoul stocks edged up 0.77% from a four-and-a-half-month low hit earlier this week, although trading was light with threats from the North still clouding the picture. The won currency gained 0.3%.

Other officials in Seoul said surveillan­ce of North Korean activity had been enhanced.

Missile transporte­rs had been spotted in South Hamgyong province along North Korea’s east coast — possible sites for a launch.

North Korea observes several anniversar­ies in the next few days and they could be pretexts for military displays of strength.

These include the first anniversar­y of Mr Kim’s formal ascent to power, the 20th anniversar­y of rule by his father Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011, and the birth date next Monday of his grandfathe­r, state founder Kim Il-sung.

The near-daily threats to South Korea and the US of recent weeks were muted in state media yesterday, with the focus largely on the festivitie­s lying ahead.

A report by the KCNA news agency said North Koreans were “doing their best to decorate cities”.

Another dispatch related a “production upsurge” in the coal, steel, iron and timber sectors, with figures showing the quarterly plan set by authoritie­s had been “overfulfil­led”.

In Washington, Adm Samuel Locklear, the commander of US forces in the Pacific region, said the US military believed North Korea had moved an unspecifie­d number of Musudan missiles to its east coast.

The Musudan can reach targets at a distance of 3,500km or more, according to South Korea, which would put Japan within range and may even threaten Guam, home to US bases. South Korea can be reached by the North’s short-range Scud missiles.

Mr Yun told a parliament­ary hearing: “According to intelligen­ce obtained by our side and the US, the possibilit­y of a missile launch by North Korea is very high.”

The US-South Korea Combined Forces Command in Seoul raised its “Watchcon 3” status, a normal condition, by one level to boost monitoring and increase the number of intelligen­ce staff, a senior military official told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

Mr Yun said he was co-ordinating with China and Russia “to make efforts to persuade North Korea to change its attitude”.

US Secretary of State John Kerry visits Seoul this week. He met Rus-

According to intelligen­ce obtained by our side and the US, the possibilit­y of a missile launch by North Korea is very high

sian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday. Mr Lavrov warned against stoking the North Korea crisis with military manoeuvres, but stressed that Moscow and Washington had a common stand.

“On North Korea we have no difference­s with the US,” he told journalist­s as he met with Mr Kerry.

“One just shouldn’t scare anyone with military manoeuvres and there’s a chance that everything will calm down.”

China is North Korea’s sole major ally, and supplies most of its rice aid, but the North is not a client state. Beijing has backed the new sanctions and agreed to inspection­s of cargo to and from North Korea.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman issued a fresh appeal for restraint on the Korean peninsula and said nothing about any possible effort to bring about a change in the North’s policy.

On Tuesday, the North told foreigners in South Korea to leave to avoid being dragged into a “thermonucl­ear war”. It previously warned diplomats in Pyongyang to prepare to leave.

Patricia Lewis, research director at the London-based think tank Chatham House, said that strictly on the basis of the North’s vast convention­al forces, caution was needed. “The convention­al military capabiliti­es of North Korea are all too real and all too close to Seoul,” she wrote in a paper.

“Any incursion could escalate, involving the US and Japan, China, perhaps Russia and others.”

Pyongyang has tested shortrange Scud missiles. The longerrang­e Musudan and Nodong missiles are an unknown quantity.

“If the missile was in defence of the homeland, I would certainly recommend that action (of intercepti­ng it). And if it was defence of our allies, I would recommend that action,” Adm Locklear told a Senate hearing in Washington. Reuters

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