Seoul to ‘significantly’ beef up defense amid fears over North Korea’s nuclear plans

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“Our government will build capabilities to better implement U.S. extended deterrence and significantly improve the ROK military’s response capabilities to deter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats,” he said. said Defense Minister Lee Jong-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 its response – echoing a promise made by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin a day earlier.

North Korea’s “repeated missile provocations” were progressing “in quality and quantity”, Lee said, adding that this and preparations for a nuclear test were a “serious challenge threatening peace and stability”.

This threat was a key topic of discussion at the three-day security forum, which attracts defense officials from across the region and this year has passed under the shadow of war in Ukraine and heightened concerns about Pyongyang’s weapons program.

North Korea has dramatically stepped up its ballistic missile testing this year, 17 missiles launched to datewhile the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency have warned of signs that the country is preparation for an underground nuclear weapon testin what would be his first since 2017.
Lee’s latest comments are another sign of Seoul’s shift to a harder line against the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, following the wave of North Korean missile tests and the election of new South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.

Regional response

The dialogue was also a forum for countries to strengthen their cooperative plans to deter the North Korean threat.

In a meeting Saturday on the sidelines of the forum, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi of Japan and South Korea’s Lee spoke of “solidarity” as a key element of deterrence against the North Korea, according to a senior US defense official. official.

The three countries planned to engage in ballistic missile data-sharing exercises and discuss additional trilateral exercises, the official said.

Austin pledged to deepen U.S. security cooperation with Japan and South Korea in response to North Korean provocations in a speech the same day.

“We remain open to future diplomacy – and fully prepared to deter and defeat future aggression,” he said.

Earlier this month, the United States and South Korea answered together to a North Korean ballistic missile test by launching their own missiles into the waters off the east coast of the Korean peninsula, while US and Japanese forces staged a joint exercise.

Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe also commented on North Korea’s recent missile launches in response to a question following his own speech at the forum on Sunday.

Wei said China will continue to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula, but stressed that the security concerns of all parties should be taken into account.

“The concerns of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] are not being addressed by the international community,” he said, adding that international sanctions had harmed the quality of life in North Korea.

At the end of last month, China, together with Russia, blocked a US-led bid strengthen sanctions against North Korea in response to recent ballistic missile tests in violation of UN resolutions.

In his address, South Korean Minister Lee said that if North Korea makes substantial progress in denuclearization, South Korea will pursue a “bold plan” to help improve the country’s economy and the lives of its people. citizens, but this plan must come “from a position of strength.”

CNN’s Ally Barnard and Teele Rebane contributed to this report.

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