US-South Korea Naval Exercises Latest Move In Peninsula Ping-Pong
North Korea has replaced hard-line defense minister Kim Kyok Sik with a little-known army general, according to a state media report Monday. The decision to place Jang Jong Kim in the position is viewed by many analysts as part of a larger move by Kim Jong Un to strengthen his control over his government.
An opinion in the Korea Times addressed speculation surrounding Sik’s replacement.
Some analysts viewed it as an attempt to resume dialogue with Seoul and Washington, while others said Kim Jong Un may have regarded Kim Kyok-shik “as a hurdle to his ambitious plan to keep abreast of both
nuclear armament and economic development.” The Times editorial, however, dismissed both arguments, saying: “These arguments, however, seem far-fetched, given that it would be difficult for the isolationist regime in Pyongyang to soften its stance overnight.”
US-South Korea Move To Strengthen Ties – And Message
Victor Cha of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the recent visit of South Korean President Park Geun-hye served to secure relations between the US and South Korea, as well as providing Park with a platform to use “very strong words about her willingness to retaliate at any North Korean provocation.”
Days after Park’s visit to Washington, South Korea and the US conducted a joint naval drill that included integrated flight operations and other air defense events and was intended “reinforce regional security and stability.”
The two-day exercise is the latest move in a military back-and-forth which has been ongoing since North Korea conducted a nuclear test in February. Pyongyang responded with its usual rhetorical bluster describing the exercises as “a grave military provocation” that constituted “a wanton threat against” North Korea.
Japanese Official Meets With North Korea
On Tuesday, Reuters reported that Isao Iijima, an aide to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, traveled to North Korea to meet with Kim Chol-ho, vice director of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s Asian Affairs Department. The meeting and its purpose were shrouded in secrecy, although some speculated it might be related to the kidnapping of Japanese citizens decades ago.