South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo on Monday delivered a stern warning against North Korea’s nuclear and missile program, saying its use of nuclear weapons would cause the reclusive state to be “wiped out off the map.”
However, the minister expressed skepticism over the prospect of North Korea attacking the US or South Korea with a nuclear-tipped missile, describing Pyongyang’s nuclear threat as more of a propaganda strategy than a viable option.
During a Q&A session with his official English interpreter at a security forum in Singapore, Song said it is an “anachronistic view” that North Korea would use its nuclear weapons for the reunification of the two Koreas, because it would bring about the total destruction of the Kim Jong-un regime.
“I think it is skeptical that North Korea would actually use its nuclear weapon against the US and South Korea,” the minister said, responding to questions following his keynote speech at the Fullerton Forum hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The session was broadcast live on YouTube.
“(The) Kim Jong-un regime’s nuclear threat is not something that will actually happen, but rather a propaganda strategy. ... If it were to attack the US or South Korea with nuclear weapons, North Korea would be wiped out off the map.”
|South Korea‘s Defense Minister Song Young-moo delivers a keynote address at the sixth International Institute for Strategic Studies Fullerton forum in Singapore on Monday. AFP-Yonhap|
His remarks came as the two Koreas are seeking to ease military tension and improve inter-Korean ties through the PyeongChang Winter Games, though concern persists over North Korea’s relentless nuclear ambition, with the North preparing for a massive military parade on the eve of the Olympics’ opening.
Calling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs the “most serious and imminent problem,” the minister reiterated a diplomatic approach in dealing with the communist state and that the goal of international sanctions was to bring the North to dialogue -- not to punish the country.
Song also urged regional countries to join in the international community’s efforts to enforce a UN Security Council resolution that bans ship-to-ship transfer of goods -- particularly oil -- destined for Pyongyang.
“There was a case last year when North Korea engaged in a secret trading of oil and other goods in the international waters by using foreign vessels and turning off (the) automatic identification system,” Song said during his keynote speech.
In late December, South Korea’s customs office revealed that it had seized a Hong Kong-flagged oil tanker accused of transferring 600 metric tons of refined oil to a North Korean ship in October in violation of UN sanctions.
Regarding the possibility that South Korea could arm itself with nuclear weapons, the minister said the government will stick to the principle of denuclearization made in 1992 when the two Koreas pledged to abandon all nuclear weapons deployed on the Korean Peninsula, including US tactical nukes.
“I think we have completely solved the issue. ... I’d like to make clear to the entire world that South Korea will uphold (the) denuclearization policy,” Song said, responding to a question on whether South Korea would consider developing its own nukes or redeploying US tactical nukes.
“Instead, we have maintained close coordination in order to completely address North Korea’s nuclear weapons through South Korea-US combined capability and intelligence capability among South Korea, US and Japan.”
Known as the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue Sherpa Meeting, the IISS Fullerton Forum is a platform for defense and military officials and nongovernmental experts to discuss key regional security issues. Song is the first South Korea defense minister to deliver a keynote speech at the Fullerton Forum.
Song visited Singapore as part of a weeklong trip to Southeast Asian --including Indonesia and Thailand -- in a bid to present a united front against North Korea’s nuclear threat and promote the Moon Jae-in administration’s “New Southern Policy.”
Following the security forum, the minister met with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen. The two countries agreed to promote defense cooperation and enhance bilateral coordination to address North Korea’s nuclear program, Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense said.
By Yeo Jun-suk (email@example.com)