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South confident of missile defense against North

Jan. 28, 2021 - 17:16 By Choi Si-young
Defense Minister Suh Wook speaks during a New Year’s press conference at the Defense Ministry in Seoul, Jan. 27, 2021. (Ministry of National Defense)
South Korea stands fully capable of countering the latest short-range missiles that North Korea has test-fired, South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook said Wednesday.

Speaking at a New Year’s press conference, Suh highlighted Seoul’s missile defense, saying it could bring down even some of Pyongyang’s untested new missiles. The military is seeking a foolproof shield against the remaining missiles, Suh said.

“Our defense is airtight and we’re superior. We have better reconnaissance and strike capabilities, in terms of both quality and quantity. We have weak spots but that’s being taken care of.”

Suh was addressing concerns that surfaced after North Korea held a military parade in mid-January to coincide with the regime’s key party congress, in which it revealed new ballistic missiles. Experts were split over Pyongyang’s latest missile technology.

A senior Defense Ministry official said North Korea was now following up on instructions that leader Kim Jong-un had delivered to party members and his Cabinet. Kim doubled down on advancing the moribund economy battered by UN sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

North Korea is in a wait-and-see mode, the senior official added, referring to the new US administration, which has yet to roll out its North Korea policy and engage the regime, with which Washington is still at odds over steps to denuclearization.

Suh sided with President Moon Jae-in when he spoke on the annual joint military drills between Seoul and Washington, slated for March. The allies skipped them last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our position is that if we could deescalate tension and build trust, we could consult with the North on anything, including the drills, at talks,” Suh said, echoing Moon, who told reporters earlier that the two Koreas could discuss the matter if necessary.

Suh said the military was preparing for the drills and that they would be computer simulations of war rather than all-out field exercises. He also said the ministry was looking at contingencies in case the coronavirus situation has not stabilized by that time.

The defense chief admitted that there was a “slight difference” on when Seoul should take over the wartime operational control from Washington, which has been responsible for it since the onset of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended without a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas still at war.

South Korea plans to wrap up the transfer by May 2022 before Moon leaves office that month, but that is seen as next to impossible since the two allies missed out on the joint drills last year that should have tested Seoul’s readiness to assume a wartime role.

The defense minister underscored the ministry’s plans to introduce the country’s first light aircraft carrier by 2030 at the earliest, saying it would enhance combat readiness. Suh said he was looking into nuclear submarines as well, but admitted there were complications to consider before making the final call.

By Choi Si-young and Joint Press Corps (