'N. Korea may be preparing nuke, missile test'
By Kim Young-jin
North Korea could be preparing to carry out a nuclear or missile test in the near future, the defense ministry said in a report Friday, according to lawmakers.
The report was submitted by the ministry during a meeting between Defense Minister Kim Kwang-jin and lawmakers of the ruling Saenuri Party.
"The defense ministry claimed that the communist country was prepared to carry out tests with little preparation time," a senior Saenuri official said on condition of anonymity.
The nuclear-armed North raised international ire in April with its failed rocket launch. But it held back on carrying out a third nuclear test under heavy pressure from the international community.
At the meeting, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin added that the North is meddling with the presidential election process here in a bid to ramp up its hostile stance.
“While maintaining a harsh phase of confrontation, North Korea seems to be trying to interfere with the presidential elections,” he said.
He said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ratcheted up tensions with recent moves such as visiting a military unit, in what was seen as a response to joint U.S.-South military drills later this month.
Seoul and Washington maintain that the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills beginning Aug. 20 are to bolster military readiness but Pyongyang alleges they are rehearsals for invasion.
The North’s moves are often interpreted as attempts to sway South Koreans toward liberal candidates who support engagement with Pyongyang.
Recent examples include accusing Seoul and Washington of hiring a North Korean defector to slip back across the border to destroy statues of the Stalinist state’s founder, Kim Il-sung. It also threatened to attack conservative media outlets for insulting its regime.
Meanwhile, Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik attempted to tamp down expectations of reform in the North, which in recent weeks has shown signs of pursuing economic reforms.
Reports last week said that the regime had passed down instructions to implement new management policies to loosen the tight control of output and allow production units to distribute wealth themselves.
The new system is said to involve factory enterprises setting their own prices for their goods, rather than the state, and giving them more leeway to decide on matters such as production and distribution of profits. Farmers would take 30 percent of the total harvest and the government 70 percent. Officials here say it remains to be seen whether the measures will result in a significant shift.
Kim, reportedly born in either 1983 or early 1984 took over in December, has departed from the isolationist tendencies of his father, with state media showing images of Kim with his wife or watching a concert with unmistakably Western themes.
"It's still early to conclude that (actual) changes are taking place based on a few signs," Yu said. "However, there's no reason to ignore those signs either."