South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan on Wednesday declared his country was absolutely able to respond to any "further provocation" by its northern neighbor, which observers worry could be a new atomic device test, the Yonhap News Agency reported (see GSN, May 8).
"Our government is getting everything in a state of readiness to cope with any further provocation from North Korea," the foreign policy chief said during an event in Seoul. He did not cite particular acts of potential aggression.
Pyongyang recently has become more detailed in its hostile rhetoric toward Seoul, saying its armed forces could obliterate the Lee Myung-bak administration and South Korean news agencies within "three or four minutes."
Issue experts wonder whether the threats mean North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un is preparing to order a fresh assault on South Korea in an effort to rebuild his reputation at home after last month's unsuccessful attempt to send a long-range rocket into space.
"Compared with the past, the level of North Korea's verbal threats is very high and our government is becoming increasingly nervous," Kim said.
North Korea is widely understood to be behind two 2010 attacks that left 50 South Koreans dead. Seoul responded to those assaults by streamlining its process for ordering reprisal military attacks and has warned that it will respond quickly and forcefully to any new hostility by the North.
The Stalinist state is also feared to be preparing to detonate a third atomic device. Satellite images taken in April of the Punggye-ri test site show work around a new tunnel, which would likely be used in another underground atomic detonation.
The U.N. Security Council has strongly warned Pyongyang to hold off on any provocations that would be expected to bring instability to the region.
The Lee administration is in tight cooperation with the governments of China, Japan, Russia, and the United States on convincing Pyongyang to give up its provocation tactics, according to Kim (Yonhap News Agency, May 9).