South Korea increased its diplomatic and military efforts against a possible North Korean nuclear weapons test as the totalitarian state showed signs of moving forward with its preparations.
Arrangements for a test are “nearly complete” at the Punggye-ri nuclear site, about 370 kilometers (230 miles) northeast of Pyongyang, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok told reporters today in Seoul. The North last week covered the entrance to a tunnel at the site, where atomic devices were twice detonated in 2006 and 2009, to evade satellite monitoring, according to Yonhap News.
Signs of a possible test come as the international community increases pressure on North Korea to deter it from conducting a third atomic experiment. The United Nations Security Council last month strengthened sanctions against Kim Jong Un’s regime in a move supported by China, North Korea’s biggest benefactor.
The potential nuclear test helped send South Korean defense stocks soaring today, while the benchmark Kospi index fell 0.2 percent. Naval ship equipment maker Speco Co. (013810) rose by the daily limit of 15 percent, electronic warfare equipment maker Victek Co. (065450) gained 13.5 percent and armored vehicle manufacturer Firstec Co. (010820) added 9.7 percent.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan spoke with new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday on the phone and vowed to “firmly” deal with a North Korean nuclear weapons test and other provocations, the Foreign Ministry said today in a statement on its website.
The South’s chief nuclear negotiator Lim Sung Nam left for Beijing yesterday for a three-day visit to discuss the latest developments in North Korea with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei, according to the Foreign Ministry.
“We are concentrating our efforts on China, which is the only country that has the power to persuade the North,” Foreign Minister Kim told lawmakers today in Seoul.
The U.S. and South Korea today began joint naval exercises in waters east of the Korean peninsula. The USS San Francisco, a nuclear submarine, docked at South Korea’s southeastern naval base in Jinhae on Jan. 31 ahead of the four-day anti-submarine training, according to the Pacific Command.
The exercise comes a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with commanding officers of his navy, air force and the anti-air force and strategic rocket force, and called for stronger military and defense capabilities, the official Korean Central News Agency said.
Kim made an “important concluding speech” as a guideline to strengthening the North’s 1.7 million-strong army, KCNA said, without further elaborating.
Another statement from KCNA yesterday said North Korea will carry out “merciless retaliation” against those opposed to the regime, repeating language used when the foreign ministry accused the U.S. of a double standard. The U.S. would face the “toughest retaliation” for criticizing North Korea’s rocket launch while supporting one by South Korea, the foreign ministry said on Feb. 2 in a statement carried by KCNA.
The UN Security Council on Jan. 22 tightened sanctions against North Korea after the nation launched a rocket in December. North Korea’s National Defense Commission threatened to conduct a nuclear test “of higher level” in response, according to a statement carried by KCNA on Jan. 24.
The UN agency that detects and reports on nuclear-weapon explosions is prepared to verify a successful North Korean atomic explosion the day it occurs, Annika Thunborg, a spokeswoman for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, told journalists on Jan. 29.
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