N. Korea rattles nuclear saber as US continues joint drills in region

Posted on : 2023-04-03 17:41 KST Modified on : 2023-04-03 17:41 KST
The US has been conducting joint military exercises with South Korea since March, and is slated to begin naval drills with South Korea and Japan as early as Monday
A monitor in Seoul Station displays a news broadcast about a ballistic missile test by North Korea on Feb. 27. (Yonhap)
A monitor in Seoul Station displays a news broadcast about a ballistic missile test by North Korea on Feb. 27. (Yonhap)

North Korea’s state news agency lambasted the joint military drills between South Korea and the US that have been taking place since March in a commentary titled “War Maniacs’ Reckless Moves,” which was published by the Korean Central News Agency on Sunday. The US, South Korea, and Japan are scheduled to hold naval drills as early as Monday, which are expected to further escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The KCNA criticized the current situation, saying, “The U.S. and South Korea staged large-scale joint military exercises, Freedom Shield, simulating an all-out war against the DPRK for 11 days from March 13, the longest-ever period. Their war hysteria is running up to the climax along with the start of Ssangyong, a joint landing drill.”

It also warned that “the U.S. and its followers should never forget the fact that their rival state has possessed the nuclear attack capability in practice as well as the characteristics of the people and army of the DPRK which do not make empty talk.”

KCNA’s commentaries are regarded as representing the official views of North Korean leadership but are considered to be less important than the “discourses” of senior officials and institutions, such as the spokesperson for the foreign ministry.

Kim Yo-jong, the sister of Kim Jong-un who serves as Central Committee vice department director, released a statement on Saturday stating that “if the Zelenskiy authorities calculated that they can avoid the powerful fire of Russia only when they go under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, which had already been perforated, they are going to the wrong path, the last path.”

It is possible that the statement was also aimed at South Korea and the US, who have been responding to North Korea’s threats by strengthening their extended deterrence.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula persist due to repeated North Korean threats and joint military exercises between South Korea and the US. While the Freedom Shield drills — command post exercises that focused on computer simulations — ended on March 23, South Korea and the US are continuing with the joint amphibious drill known as the Ssangyong (“double dragons”) exercise and deployments of US aircraft carriers.

The Ssangyong drill began on March 20 and will conclude on Monday. The US Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz (CVN-68), arrived in Busan last week and is expected to participate in South Korea-US-Japan naval drills in the high seas south of Jeju Island as early as Monday. It will be the first time in six months since October 2022 that South Korea, the US, and Japan have conducted naval drills near the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea is expected to respond in turn. 38 North, a media outlet that provides analysis of North Korea, reported on Saturday (US time) that signs of growing activity were detected at a major nuclear scientific research facility in Yongbyon. The 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon was found to be operating continuously, and water discharges from the experimental light water reactor (ELWR) were also detected.

While this is not the first time that water discharges have been detected around the ELWR, the discharge is a sign that the ELWR is nearing completion and is being transitioned to an operational state, the outlet explained.

“Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are rising amid a game of chicken between the two Koreas,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. “When we analyze North Korea’s statements and commentaries, we expect it to launch [as it warned us] a military reconnaissance satellite in early April, and an intercontinental ballistic missile at a normal angle in time for the South Korea-US summit in late April.”

By Shin Hyeong-cheol, staff reporter; Lee Je-hun, staff reporter; Kim Mi-hyang, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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