North Korea may launch provocative acts as it carries out its leadership succession plan, and could disrupt a G20 summit in South Korea next month, Seoul’s defence minister said today.
Last week, North Korea announced leader Kim Jong Il had promoted his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, to four-star general and given him key political posts aimed at an eventual succession.
It would be the North’s second hereditary power transition; the elder Kim took over in 1994 after the death of his father, national founder Kim Il Sung.
“There is a possibility that North Korea could launch provocations to overcome internal and external difficulties in the process of Kim Jong Un’s succession and to disrupt our G20,” Defence Minister Kim Tae-young told lawmakers during an annual parliamentary inspection of the government.
Seoul is preparing to host G20 leaders in November at a summit largely to focus on economic issues.
Kim did not elaborate on what actions the North might take, but its reclusive regime has acted provocatively in the past at times of internal change, external tension or when the rival South was the focus of world attention.
In 1987, North Korean agents planted a bomb on a South Korean plane, killing all 115 people on board, a year before Seoul hosted the 1988 Olympics.
In 1983, North Korean agents carried out a bombing during a trip to Burma by South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan. The attack, which killed 21 people, came three years after Kim Jong Il was confirmed at a 1980 party congress as the man who would take over from his father as the country’s next leader.
“The attack was designed to draw support from North Korea’s military toward Kim Jong Il,” said Baek Seung-joo, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s state-run Korea Institute for Defence Analysis. “The North could launch provocations, if necessary, to build Kim Jong Un’s military charisma.”
Tensions have recently been high between the two Koreas. In March, a South warship sank in disputed sea waters, killing 46 sailors. A South-led investigation blamed a North Korean torpedo attack, but the North denies involvement.
However, another expert on the North said that while provocations cannot be excluded, they are unlikely given Pyongyang’s recent overtures toward Seoul and other countries.
“Provocations, especially in time for the G20 summit, will cause the US and the rest of the world to take a considerably negative view of North Korea,” said Kim Yong-hyun, an analyst at Seoul’s Dongguk University.
“I don’t see what reason there is for North Korea to take a hardline approach when it is trying to establish a succession system,” he said.
The two Koreas recently agreed to hold reunions for families separated during the Korean War, at Pyongyang’s proposal. The country has expressed a willingness to return to six-nation talks aimed at its denuclearisation.
Pyongyang is preparing a massive parade to mark the 65th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party on Sunday, said the defence minister, adding that some 15,000 soldiers are deployed at the Mirim air base near Pyongyang as part of that parade.
He said North Korea is also preparing military drills involving warships, fighter jets and artillery near the city of Wonsan on the North’s east coast.