MS Risk Blog

South Korea Warns More Provocative Acts by North Korea in mid-October

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South Korea last month indicated that it expects more provocative acts by North Korea this month, noting that they are likely to coincide with the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean communist party and China’s all-important Communist Party Congress.

During a meeting with President Moon Jae-in late last month, national security adviser Chung Eui-yong disclosed that he expected Pyongyang to act around October 10 and 18, however he provided no further details. Park Wan-ju, a lawmaker and head spokesman of the ruling Democratic Party, disclosed that the South Korean security adviser’s report also pointed to the risk that a military conflict could be sparked by “accidental incidents.” He added that “the president said the United States speaks of military and diplomatic options, but South Korea can’t go through war again.” He also sated that President Moon told the meeting that Washington and Seoul agreed that pressure needed to be applied to North Korea, with the door to talks still open. Asked if China had a plan to respond to an emergency in North Korea, such as securing nuclear and missile sites, Chinese defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian disclosed, “military means cannot become an option,” as he urged talks to resolve the issue. He added, “the Chinese military will make all necessary preparations to protect the country’s sovereignty and security and regional peace and stability,” without elaborating.

Meanwhile in a separate speech late last month, South Korean president Moon stated that cooperation with the international community to curb the North’s nuclear ambitions was at its highest ever. He further called for the strengthening of South Korea-US defences to rein in the North. South Korean lawmakers have also disclosed that national security adviser Chung had told them that the US and South Korea had agreed on the rotational deployment of US strategic assets to South Korea, possibly as soon as year-end. The nature of the assets however was not specified. The lawmakers further disclosed that President Moon added that it was inappropriate to discuss the deployment of nuclear weapons in South Korea. Moon stated that he had opposed the deployment of US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, but rapid improvement in North Korea’s missile capabilities prompted the decision. China opposes the deployment of THAAD because it believes that its powerful radar could be used to look inside its territory. South Korea and the US have stated that it is only to curb North Korea’s missile threats.

China has vowed to uphold UN sanctions against North Korea, besides seeking to get stalled talks restarted with Pyongyang. Late last month, China’s commerce ministry disclosed that North Korean firms or joint ventures in China would be close within 120 days of the latest United Nations Security Council sanctions, which were passed on 12 September. The ministry further disclosed in a statement on its website that overseas, Chinese joint ventures with North Korean entities or individuals will also be closed. The statement however did not provide a timeframe. The ministry had issued similar rules after a previous set of UN sanctions in August.   Expulsion of North Korean diplomats has been amongst the measures that countries have taken against the reclusive state since its latest nuclear test. Malaysia has banned citizens from travelling to North Korea, citing the escalating tension on the Korean peninsula.

In recent weeks, tension on the Korean peninsula has risen as North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump exchanged war-like threats and insults over the North’s nuclear and missile development programme. The North has accused President Trump of declaring war after the US leader warned that Kim’s regime would not last if he persisted in threatening the United States and its allies, having earlier warned North Korea would be totally destroyed in such an event.   Pyongyang conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on 3 September and has launched dozens of missiles this year as it accelerates a programme aimed at eventually targeting the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile. The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea as the 1950 – 1953 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty.