Tensions rise as North Korea prepares further nuclear tests


South Korea increased its diplomatic and military efforts against a possible North Korean nuclear weapons test as the totalitarian state showed signs of moving forward with its preparations.

Arrangements for a test are “nearly complete” at the Punggye-ri nuclear site, about 370km (230 miles) northeast of Pyongyang, South Korean defence ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok told reporters yesterday in Seoul.

The North last week covered the entrance to a tunnel at the site, where atomic devices were twice detonated in 2006 and 2009, to evade satellite monitoring, according to Yonhap News.

Signs of a possible test come as the international community increases pressure on North Korea to deter it from conducting a third atomic experiment.

Strengthened sanctions

The United Nations Security Council last month strengthened sanctions against Kim Jong Un’s regime in a move supported by China, North Korea’s biggest benefactor.

South Korean foreign minister Kim Sung Hwan spoke with new US secretary of state John Kerry on Sunday on the phone and vowed to deal “firmly” with a North Korean nuclear weapons test and other provocations, the foreign ministry said yesterday in a statement on its website.

The South’s chief nuclear negotiator Lim Sung Nam left for Beijing on Sunday for a three-day visit to discuss the latest developments with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei, according to the foreign ministry.

“We are concentrating our efforts on China, which is the only country that has the power to persuade the North,” foreign minister Kim told lawmakers yesterday in Seoul.

Naval exercises

The US and South Korea yesterday began joint naval exercises in waters east of the Korean peninsula. The USS San Francisco, a nuclear submarine, docked at South Korea’s southeastern naval base in Jinhae on January 31st ahead of the four-day anti-submarine training, according to the Pacific Command.

The exercise comes a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met commanding officers of his navy, air force and the anti-air force and strategic rocket force, and called for stronger military and defence capabilities, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

Kim made an “important concluding speech” as a guideline to strengthening the North’s 1.7 million-strong army, KCNA said.

Another statement from KCNA on Sunday said North Korea would carry out “merciless retaliation” against those opposed to the regime.

The US would face the “toughest retaliation” for criticising North Korea’s rocket launch while supporting one by South Korea, the foreign ministry said. – Bloomberg