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North Korea beefs up self-defense capabilities in military reorganization

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over a meeting of the top military decision-making body to accelerate the development of self-defense capabilities ahead of key events that will decide its national strategy, its state media reported Sunday.

Discussions on ways to bolster its military capabilities through organizational restructuring and personnel reshuffle were highlighted during the third expanded meeting of the seventh central military commission of the ruling Workers’ Party. Details on what measures were discussed were not disclosed. 


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks at an enlarged meeting of the Workers Party's Central Military Commission in this photo released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency on Sunday. (Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks at an enlarged meeting of the Workers Party's Central Military Commission in this photo released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency on Sunday. (Yonhap)

“At the meeting, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un gave an analysis and briefing on the complicated internal and external situation and said that the meeting would decide on important organizational and political measures and military steps to bolster the overall armed forces,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said. 

“It decided on important military issues and measures for organizing or expanding and reorganizing new units in conformity with the party’s military and strategic intention, changing the affiliation of some units and their deployment,” the report said.

North Korea appears to view military-related activities this year as yielding fruitful results and carried out restructuring of personnel and organizations in accordance with the results, such as newly developed short-range ballistic missiles, said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongguk University. 

The country has test-fired a series of short-range projectiles since May. It also recently conducted two tests at its west coast satellite launch site, better known as the Dongchang-ri site, raising speculation that it is preparing to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Compared to last year’s military meeting, the number of Cabinet members and party officials who took part in the event has decreased, indicating that military officers have expanded their presence through the reshuffle, according to Cheong Seoung-chang, vice president of Research Planning at the Sejong Institute.

“This difference shows that they had an important discussion on North Korea’s advancement of nuclear and missile capabilities,” he said.

With only 10 days remaining for the year to end, North Korea’s denuclearization is at a critical juncture as its nuclear talks with the US have not made any progress despite a year-end deadline set by the North’s leader Kim. He has warned of finding a “new way” if the US does not make acceptable concessions.

Its new way is expected to be clarified in the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, a key meeting to decide core policies, which the regime had earlier said would convene later this month. The official announcement is expected to be made in Kim’s New Year’s address issued on Jan. 1.

Experts here expect Pyongyang to abandon nuclear diplomacy with Washington and pursue its economic development while seeking support from Russia and China.

“Although North Korea has not mentioned it directly, the content of the meeting indicates that its effort for denuclearization will be weakened,” Koh said.

In April 2018, Kim announced a new strategic line that focuses on economic and scientific development during a major speech at a plenum meeting of the Workers’ Party. He declared the successful completion of the “Byungjin Line,” unveiled in 2013, that stated that the North would develop its economy and nuclear arsenal simultaneously.

Meanwhile, the US has urged North Korea to stop provocations and return to the negotiating table following a series of weapons tests.

On Sunday, leaders of the US and Japan agreed to work together on North Korea’s issues. “President (Donald) Trump and Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe agreed to continue close communication and coordination, particularly in light of recent threatening statement issues by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said, referring to the official name of North Korea.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)
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