According to the South Korean prime minister, North Korea is ready to test nuclear weapons and it will probably do so.
Sky News exclusive: Han Duck–soo stated that while it’s “hard to predict when” a test will occur, they “are prepared”.
His comments are made at a time when tensions in the Korean Peninsula have been as high for many years.
In a broad interview, Prime Minister Han said China’s recent relaxation of its strict no COVID rules “should have happened sooner” and that he would like to see his powerful neighbor become “more rules-based”.
Prime Minister Han made the statements regarding North Korea in the final weeks of an year that has seen the isolated state launch more missiles than any other since Kim Jong Un became leader in 2011.
One missile was seen landing in the ocean to the south and east of the “Northern Limit Line”, which is an unofficial maritime boundary between the two countries. It was also closer to the South Korean coast than any other time. Another flew above Japan.
A nuclear test would be the first since 2017, and it would be a significant escalation in an already volatile time.
Prime Minister Han stated, “We always have plans for that type of very undesirable action.”
“We are unable to predict at the moment what type of response we will get.”
“But we clearly would like to have some sort of extended deterrence capability, including all options.”
North Korea implied that it was responding to large-scale military drills between South Korea, the United States last month, which it considers threatening and provocative.
South Korea now has a relatively young president and a relatively recent government. Yoon Suk-yeol, who was elected in March, promised a more hawkish approach towards North Korea.
His government was accused of wasting some progress made under the previous administration, which saw increased dialogue between the two nations.
“We will ensure peace on our terms”
Prime Minister Han has firmly rejected this criticism: “You might call strengthening our deterrence capacities the ‘harder’ line, but it’s a natural path for any country increasing its self-reliance in terms security.
“We will ensure peace according to our terms and not those of North Korea.”
He also provided information on the most recent images of Kim Jong Un, which were taken alongside his daughter.
She was with him at recent missile launches, and she has never been seen publicly before. Some speculate that she is being trained to lead the organization at age nine or ten.
Prime Minister Han stated that North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile would be a major event.
“If he wants to show something, that would be a great time.
“Perhaps the appearance of his child, for him, to deliver some message.”
Yoon Suk-yeol, who was also on the campaign trail, strongly implied that he would be taking a tougher line against China and being more open about South Korea’s alliance to the United States.
It has had to navigate a tightrope between China and the superpowers. China is its largest trading partner, while both sides have important roles in the North Korean problem.
Although South Korea is keen to emphasize its warm relationship with China in this regard, Prime Minister Han spoke directly about the “very large impact” China’s zero COVID policies have had on South Korea’s economy and society. He also stated that it should have been ended sooner.
He also stated that South Korea is willing to work with the United States on certain issues relating to China.
He said, “South Korea, China, and I are very, very close to each other, and that we will continue to do so.”
“But Korea would like to see China more rule-based and more universally value respecting, as part of the international community.”
He was also more clear than the previous government regarding the need to intensify tri-lateral cooperation between the United States and South Korea. This is significant because China had previously considered it a’redline’.
He stated that “Trilateral cooperation to ensure the security and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula” was a necessity.
Prim Minister Han stated that Korea faces many economic challenges, including high inflation, weak currencies and high housing prices.
Meet Kim Jong Un’s potential successor
This is a nation, however, that is conscious of its place on the international stage.
It was recently awarded the opportunity to host the 2030 World Expo in Busan, the southernmost city. Mr Han wanted to show South Korea’s “structure for cooperation with other nations”.
However, North Korea’s actions will likely increase its visibility.
Even though South Korea claims it is committed to dialogue, the chances of a major deescalation seem increasingly slim.