South Korea will “dramatically strengthen” its defensive capabilities, the defense minister said Sunday amid international concern that Pyongyang is reviving its nuclear test program.
“Our administration will strengthen the capacity to better implement the US’s comprehensive deterrence and will dramatically increase the response capabilities of the Republic of Korea military to deter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats,” Defense Secretary Lee Jong said. -Sup at the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore.
Lee also said South Korea would work more closely with the United States and Japan as part of his response — following a promise US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had made a day earlier.
North Korea’s “repeated missile provocations” made progress in “quality and quantity,” Lee said, adding that this and the preparations for a nuclear test were a “serious challenge threatening peace and stability.”
That threat was a major topic of discussion at the three-day security forum, which draws defense officials from across the region and is set this year in the shadow of Ukraine’s war and heightened concerns over Pyongyang’s weapons program.
North Korea has significantly ramped up ballistic missile testing this year, launching 17 missiles to date, while both the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency have warned of signs the country is preparing for an underground nuclear weapons test, in what are first since 2017.
Lee’s latest comments are another sign of Seoul’s shift to a tougher line against the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, following North Korea’s wave of missile tests and the election of new South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. .
The dialogue was also a forum for countries to strengthen plans for cooperation to deter the North Korean threat.
At a meeting on the sidelines of the forum on Saturday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and Lee of South Korea discussed “solidarity” as a key element of deterrence against North Korea. according to a senior US defense. officially.
The three countries planned to participate in ballistic missile data-sharing exercises and to discuss additional trilateral exercises, the official said.
Austin promised in a speech that same day to deepen US security cooperation with Japan and South Korea in response to North Korean provocations.
“We remain open to future diplomacy and are fully prepared to deter and defeat future aggression,” he said.
Earlier this month, the US and South Korea jointly responded to a North Korean test of ballistic missiles by firing their own missiles into the waters off the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula, while US and Japanese forces held a joint exercise.
Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe also weighed in on North Korea’s recent missile launches in response to a question after his own speech at the forum on Sunday.
Wei said China would continue to promote peace in the Korean peninsula, but stressed that security concerns of all sides must be met.
“The DPRK’s Concerns [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] are not being addressed by the international community,” he said, adding that international sanctions were detrimental to the quality of life in North Korea.
Late last month, China, along with Russia, blocked a US-led attempt to strengthen sanctions against North Korea in response to recent ballistic missile tests in violation of UN resolutions.
In his speech, South Korean Minister Lee said that if North Korea makes substantial progress in denuclearization, South Korea would pursue a “daring plan” to help improve the country’s economy and the lives of its citizens, but this plan must come “from a standpoint of strength.”