Appearing on a radio channel operated by the ministry, he said the military is taking the situation seriously and is ensuring watertight military readiness for any emergency.
“Whatever unfolds, I’d say this with confidence that we are ready,” he said.
Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un warned that the world would witness a “new strategic weapon” in the near future, pledging to take “shocking actual action,” in protest against the stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.
Jeong’s remarks -- his first on the issue since Kim’s message -- came amid speculation that the North may test a weapon of greater significance soon, effectively lifting its self-imposed moratorium on its decadeslong nuclear weapons program.
On Sunday, the parliament’s intelligence committee chief said Pyongyang’s new weapon could be an update of either its submarine-launched ballistic missile or intercontinental ballistic missile, quoting intelligence sources.
Pyongyang may “seek to develop an ICBM with a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle or MIRV,” Yonhap News Agency quoted committee chair Rep. Lee Eun-jae of the ruling Liberty Korea Party as telling reporters.
She also said South Korea’s intelligence had concluded that North Korea would not relinquish its nuclear arsenal in exchange for sanctions relief.
The communist regime will continue to enhance its nuclear weapons capability and will likely showcase its new weapon if relations with Washington worsen, she added.
On the radio program, the defense minister further addressed regional security issues.
He said countries around the Korean Peninsula are increasingly seeking their own interests, and the United States will ask its Pacific allies to play a larger role and take more responsibility for reinforcing security in the region.
Jeong said Washington will maintain its core security objective of keeping the Indo-Pacific “free and open” from Chinese coercion.
The US describes its Indo-Pacific strategy as “an ironclad and enduring commitment” to a region spanning from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian subcontinent.
Jeong said Beijing will continue to bolster its military buildup while seeking cooperation with Moscow, whereas Tokyo will partner with Washington and beef up its military with an eye on revising its pacifist constitution.
Russia, in the meantime, will expand its military influence beyond the Asia-Pacific region to the Middle East while working with China, according to Jeong.
By Choi Si-young (firstname.lastname@example.org