North Korea on Tuesday said all foreigners and foreign-run businesses in the South should draw up evacuation plans, the latest in a series of shrill warnings from Pyongyang about what it describes as likely armed conflict on the peninsula.
The North “does not want to see foreigners in South Korea fall victim to the war,” the country’s state-run news agency said in a statement attributed to the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, an arm of the ruling Workers’ Party.
The warning was dismissed as bluster by most security analysts, who say Pyongyang wants only to raise tensions and win political concessions from the South, not go to war with it. Officials in Seoul said they saw no signs in the North of irregular military activity or preparations for war, and a spokesman for the United States Embassy in Seoul said there was no evidence of an imminent threat to U.S. citizens in South Korea.
Still, the North’s warning underscored how the secretive police state is taking increasingly unfamiliar measures to portray itself as a threat. Within the last week, North Korea, under 30-year-old leader Kim Jong Un, has temporarily shuttered a joint industrial park, announced the restart of a nuclear reactor that generates weapons-grade plutonium, and told diplomats in Pyongyang that their safety couldn’t be guaranteed from this Wednesday.
Death came by way of physical fatigue, as Pyongyang’s official news agency had it. But Kim Jong Il had worn out his welcome again and again on the international stage, claiming attention only by way of nuclear powder puffs and tremors as well as the constant threat of taking out one of the world’s major economic powers, South Korea, the miracle mirror image of his own depressed and dark North Korea.
How he really died — of natural causes or of, well, intervention of a military or conspiratorial sort — will help determine the nature of the successor regime. To have legitimacy, whatever that means for North Korea, the new government will be headed by his son Kim Jong Un, already designated the heir in elaborate if cloudy rituals toward the end of 2010. The fear is that the new leader, who is only in his 20s, may be required to show his teeth and cold-bloodedness as proof that he has come of age. How that manifests itself is the stuff of nightmares for Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow and Washington.
PYONGYANG, North Korea – A team of Japanese doctors arrived Tuesday in North Korea to examine victims of the 1945 atomic bombings of Japan, a trip that may help improve dismal ties between the countries.
Footage from Associated Press Television News in Pyongyang showed the doctors being greeted at the airport by North Korean officials. The doctors from the Hiroshima Prefectural Medical Association are expected to be in North Korea until Saturday.
Relations between the two countries are badly frayed. Japan has maintained a tight trade embargo on North Korea since Pyongyang conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
The top diplomats of South Korea and Japan showed North Korea a tough, unified face Saturday, saying it must prove it is serious about giving up its atomic ambitions before they will allow a new round of aid-for-nuclear disarmament talks.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan told reporters after a meeting in Seoul with his Japanese counterpart, Seiji Maehara, that the North must demonstrate its "true commitment" to abandoning a nuclear program that is believed to have produced enough weaponized plutonium for at least half a dozen bombs. The North also unveiled in November a uranium enrichment facility that could give it a second way to make atomic bombs.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told Maehara in a separate meeting that the issue of North’s uranium enrichment should be taken to the U.N. Security Council, presidential spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung said. Maehara agreed, she said.
North Korea, which shelled a South Korean island in November, killing four, has expressed its desire to restart the nuclear talks it quit in early 2009. The talks involve the two Koreas, Japan, the United States, China and Russia.
South Korea, the United States and Japan, frustrated over what they see as the North’s habit of breaking nuclear deals once it has received much-needed aid, want it to first show its good faith on disarmament.
"North Korea should show its true commitment toward denuclearization through specific actions," Kim said. He didn’t elaborate.
SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea is criticizing South Korea for pushing to strengthen defense ties with Japan, calling the cooperation a dangerous plot to invade the North.
The North’s government-run Uriminzokkiri website made the criticism Wednesday, two days after South Korea and Japan agreed to launch consultations on accords to share intelligence and provide each other’s militaries with fuel, food and other materials.
The pacts, if signed, will be the two countries’ first military agreement since Tokyo’s brutal colonial rule of the Korean peninsula ended in 1945.
Japan’s foreign minister on Thursday called for renewed dialogue on the divided Korean peninsula, but said the North should first take "concrete actions" to lower tensions.
"The nuclear and missile development issue of DPRK (North Korea) is a cause for major concern," Seiji Maehara said in a speech to a Washington think tank before meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"What is most important is that a North Korea-South Korea dialogue be opened up," Maehara said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
But, North Korea "needs to first take concrete actions," he said, without providing further details.
Speaking through a translator during a question-and-answer session, Maehara said North Korea "these days is escalating the level of its provocation against the region and the international community."
He referred to the sinking of a South Korean warship last May, as well as the North’s deadly shelling of a South Korean border island in November that sparked some of the worst saber-rattling since the 1950-1953 war.
He also cited a long-running dispute with Pyongyang over Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean spies in the 1970s and 80s. The kidnap victims were forced to train Pyongyang’s secret agents in Japanese language and culture.
In what would be a sweeping overhaul of its cold war-era defense strategy, Japan is about to release new military guidelines that would reduce its heavy armored and artillery forces pointed northward toward Russia in favor of creating more mobile units that could respond to China’s growing presence near its southernmost islands, Japanese newspapers reported Sunday.
The realignment comes as the United States is making new calls for Japan to increase its military role in eastern Asia in response to recent provocations by North Korea as well as China’s more assertive stance in the region.
The new defense strategy, likely to be released this week, will call for greater integration of Japan’s armed forces with the United States military, the reports said. The reports did not give a source, but the fact that major newspapers carried the same information suggested they were based on a background briefing by government officials.
The new guidelines also call for acquiring new submarines and fighter jets, the reports said, and creating ground units that can be moved quickly by air in order to defend the southern islands, including disputed islands in the East China Sea that are also claimed by China and Taiwan. These disputed islands are known as the Senkakus in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Chinese.
Details of the realignment, which was delayed a year by the change of government in September 2009, have been leaking out since large joint military drills this month between Japan and the United States that included the American aircraft carrier George Washington.
The United States and Japan wrapped up seven days of joint military exercises Friday, as tensions simmered on the Korean peninsula.
About 40,000 U.S. service members and Japanese military personnel took part in the exercises that the U.S. Air Force called the largest joint, bilateral field training exercise between the two nations. It was the 10th such exercise since 1986.
The "Keen Sword" drills took place on military sites in Okinawa, mainland Japan and the waters surrounding it, according to officials.
The Japanese government plans to boost its deployment of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptor missiles at air bases across Japan to counter the threat of North Koreas ballistic missiles under new defense policy guidelines to be approved later this month, officials said Friday.A draft appendix to the guidelines to be updated as early as next week covering the five years from April 2011 also stipulates equipping all six Aegis destroyers with Standard Missile-3 interceptors while cutting tanks and artillery by about 200 each to 400, the government and Self-Defense Forces officials said.Along with a plan to increase the number of submarines from 16 to 22 for enhanced vigilance around the Nansei chain of islands in the southwest centering on Okinawa, the planned defense posture is apparently aimed at dealing with North Korea and deterring China.The move comes amid heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula following North Koreas artillery attack on a South Korean island last month, and Chinas rapid military buildup and increasing naval activity.The PAC-3 missile system, which is designed to shoot down an incoming missile from the ground before it lands, will be deployed to all six of the Air Self-Defense Forces air defense missile groups from three at present, according to the officials.The three groups are located at Iruma base in Saitama Prefecture, which covers the Tokyo metropolitan area, Kasuga base in Fukuoka Prefecture, which is responsible for security in the southwestern Kyushu region, and Gifu base aimed at defending Nagoya in central Japan and Osaka in western Japan.