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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 14)

All News 06:57 June 14, 2022

Growing threats from North
Kim should stop arms buildup, return to dialogue

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has vowed to adopt a "power-for-power" stance against external threats and to protect the country's sovereignty. Kim also proposed a "head-on" confrontation policy to enhance the North's right to self-defense. For this, he cited the need to build up military capabilities and step up defense research during a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party on Saturday.

In a related move, Kim tapped Choe Son-hui, the nation's former key negotiator on nuclear issues with the United States, as foreign minister, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Kim also named Foreign Minister Ri Son-gwon to head the United Front Department (UFD) in charge of propaganda, espionage and front organizations. Both Choe and Ri are considered to be hardliners in dealing with the South and the U.S.

Ri drew attention with his hawkish remark on "naengmyeon" (cold noodle) to oppose South Korean tycoons visiting during an inter-Korean summit in 2018. Choe was responsible for the preparations for the first and second summits between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019, grabbing attention with her occasional hostile statements toward the U.S.

The North fired a series of artillery Sunday in line with Kim's call for greater military prowess. The move is raising concerns that it might conduct another nuclear test soon. Though Kim stopped short of mentioning a nuclear test, the North will possibly carry it out soon after its internal problems such as the COVID-19 pandemic settle down.

The North's drive toward a stronger military posture is feared to deepen security anxiety. It has prompted the South, the U.S. and Japan to solidify their trilateral security cooperation and reinforce their deterrence postures. Defense ministers of the three countries agreed on holding regular joint exercises to enhance missile detection and tracking capabilities during a meeting on the sidelines of a security conference in Singapore Sunday.

South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said he agreed with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to expand the scope and scale of the two countries' combined exercises. In a statement, the U.S. Department of Defense said, "Secretary Austin underscored that the U.S. commitment to the defense of (South Korea) is ironclad and underpinned by the full range of U.S. capabilities."

The North should refrain from conducting an additional nuclear test as it will surely trigger a stronger reaction from the international community. Some experts foresee the possibility of the North's returning to the dialogue table given that both Choe and Ri once engaged in diplomatic initiatives with the South and the U.S. We urge North Korea to seek a diplomatic approach while giving up its bid for a nuclear buildup.

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