(ATTN: ADDS details paras 11-13)
By Yi Wonju
SEOUL, April 28 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean government called Thursday on North Korea to refrain from escalating tensions in the region, responding to a threat by its leader Kim Jong-un to strengthen the regime's nuclear capabilities.
"Our government and the international community have maintained the stance that North Korea should stop all acts that heighten tensions, including the advancement of its nuclear capabilities, and to return to the negotiating table," a unification ministry official said.
South Korea will continue efforts to achieve denuclearization and bring peace to the Korean Peninsula in close coordination with Washington while keeping a close eye on the North, he added.
On Monday, North Korea showcased a massive intercontinental ballistic missile and other strategic weapons at a military parade, during which Kim vowed to beef up the country's nuclear capabilities at the "fastest possible speed."
Kim also warned any forces that seek to violate the "fundamental interests" of the North will be met with its nuclear forces.
On the meaning of "fundamental interests," the ministry official said North Korea has often used the expression without elaborating, as Kim's statement has added to rampant speculation on his intentions.
"It is considered to be used by the North as a concept with the existence of its nation and regime at its core value," he said. Apparently, many observers say, regime security is Kim's top priority.
No messages were directed at the South or the United States in Kim's latest public speech, the official noted.
The North appears to have staged the military parade on the 90th founding anniversary of the Korean People's Revolutionary Army (KPRA) to solidify internal unity under Kim's leadership and stress his legitimacy, he added.
An analyst at a state think tank said more than 20,000 people in 72 columns participated in the parade, making it the largest in five years.
It compared with about about 15,000 participants in an October 2020 parade marking the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party and about 10,000 during the party's eighth congress in January 2021.
"In terms of the diversity, strategic value and power of the displayed weaponry, and the scale of the overall columns, it can be said to be one of the largest," Hong Min, a researcher at the state-run Korea Institute of National Unification, said in a report.
Another official told reporters on condition of anonymity the ministry is still conducting an analysis to confirm whether or not Kim has been promoted from "marshal" to "grand marshal."
"Grand marshal" is the highest position in the North's military held only by its late state founder Kim Il-sung and late leader Kim Jong-il.
Kim showed up at the nighttime military parade in a white military suit wearing an epaulet with a grand marshal insignia on his right shoulder.
"It is assumed that he is wearing a grand marshal insignia based on the fact that it looks identical to those of the past, but as the North has not yet reported of the title, we will need to further analyze whether it really is a grand marshal insignia or whether there has been any changes in the shape of the marshal insignia," he said.
The leader's powerful sister, Kim Yo-jong, who was not initially spotted at the parade, appeared to have accompanied the leader from behind, the official said, citing footage released by the state-controlled Korean Central Television.
Five years after its full nuke armament claim, N. Korea's threat becomes real, further complicated
(News Focus) S. Korea grapples with calls for nuclear armament
Talk of 'normalizing' GSOMIA raises hope, skepticism around Seoul-Tokyo ties
S. Korea, U.S., Japan close ranks amid growing N.K. threats
N. Korea says month-old virus crisis under control, but skepticism lingers