President Park Geun-hye of South Korea ordered the country’s military on Monday to deliver a strong and immediate response to any North Korean provocation, the latest turn in a war of words that has become a test of resolve for the relatively unproven leaders in both the North and South.
“I consider the current North Korean threats very serious,” Ms. Park told the South’s generals. “If the North attempts any provocation against our people and country, you must respond strongly at the first contact with them without any political consideration.
“As top commander of the military, I trust your judgment in the face of North Korea’s unexpected surprise provocation,” she added.
Since Kim Jong-un took power after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in late 2011, the North has taken a series of provocative steps and amplified threats against Washington and Seoul to much louder and more menacing levels. The North has launched a three-stage rocket, tested a nuclear device and threatened to hit major American cities with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. And Mr. Kim has declared that the Korean Peninsula has reverted to a “state of war.”
At the same time, there are signs that he is interested in turning his attention to the economy, including the promotion of an economic technocrat, Pak Pong-ju,to a key post.
Ms. Park’s blunt comments stand in contrast to the usually dismissive tone that South Korean leaders take toward the North’s threats, and reflect the criticism aimed at her predecessor and fellow conservative, Lee Myung-bak, when the South was seen as not retaliating decisively after North Korea aimed an artillery barrage at a South Korean island in 2010, killing four people.
Analysts have been weighing whether the North’s intensifying threats — most judged to be hollow, given the limits of the North’s arsenal — simply continue the North’s longstanding practice of bolstering domestic support and trying to badger other nations into supplying aid.
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