President Yoon Suk-yeol presides over a meeting of the central integrated defense council on Jan. 31. (Yonhap)
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol called the leadership in Pyongyang an “irrational group” for legislating the preemptive use of nuclear weapons. Yoon also criticized North Korea’s recent series of missile test launches and other tension-causing measures as being “acts against the Korean nation and unification and historically backward provocations and threats.”
“Since the beginning of this year, the North Korean regime has continued to carry out provocations such as missile launches and gunnery exercises in the West Sea. After rejecting the concept of the Korean nation, North Korea has declared the Republic of Korea to be a belligerent party and its principal enemy,” Yoon said while presiding over the 57th central integrated defense council meeting at the Blue House on Wednesday morning.
Held annually, the meeting is organized to review the integrated defense posture of civil defense, the government, the military and the police as a contingency against national security threats. This is the second year in a row Yoon has attended the meeting. In February 2023, Yoon became the first sitting president in seven years to preside over the meeting and said he plans to do the same at the beginning of every year.
The meeting on Wednesday took place amid a spate of military actions by North Korea since the turn of the year, including gunnery exercises on its western coast (Jan. 5-7), an intermediate-range ballistic missile launch (Jan. 14), the test of the nuclear-tipped “Haeil” underwater torpedo (Jan. 19) and the launch of cruise missiles (Jan. 24, 28, and 30). That followed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s declaration at the end of last year that inter-Korean relations amount to “the relations between two states hostile to each other and the relations between two belligerent states.”
On Wednesday, North Korea described its cruise missile launch the previous day as “a launching drill” of the Hwasal-2, suggesting that the missile was no longer in testing, but was being deployed for action.
As security fears spread in the region and American experts raise the possibility of war on the Korean Peninsula, Yoon made another forceful response to North Korean provocations on Wednesday.
“A sensible government would give up its nuclear weapons and seek a way for its citizens to survive, but the North Korean regime will stoop to anything to sustain its dynastic authoritarian rule,” Yoon said.
The president added that he expects North Korea to attempt to meddle in South Korea’s general election in April.
“The North Korean regime has always carried out social disruptions, psychological operations and provocations in years with major political events. This year several provocations are expected as part of an attempt to meddle in our election, including provocations along the border, drone infiltration, fake news, cyberattacks, and disturbances in the rear,” he said.
“We need to diligently work on a plan to forestall such actions that incorporates the opinion of people on the ground,” the president added.
On Wednesday afternoon, Yoon personally presided over a meeting of key military leaders and instructed them to “pulverize North Korea’s will to commit provocations through an overwhelming response that envisions the contingency of multipronged provocations from the North,” the presidential office related.
Cho Seong-ryoul, a visiting professor at the University of North Korean Studies, raised doubts about the efficacy of Yoon’s hard-line remarks toward North Korea.
“The motto of ‘peace through strength’ that Yoon adopted after his inauguration has not worked with North Korea for a year and eight months now. If anything, peace is being endangered. Yoon seems to be trying to justify himself before a nervous populace,” Cho said.
Some think that Yoon’s prediction of “several provocations” by North Korea and his emphasis on a firm response is aimed at consolidating his base of supporters before the general election.
By Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter
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