Top military commanders held their biannual meeting on Friday to assess the security situation and their readiness as South and North Korea agreed to hold their first official talks in years, following months of escalated military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin hosted the video conference meeting attended by 140 military brass across the nation, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Jung Seung-jo, heads of the military branches, and major operation commanders, for the first time since President Park Geun-hye took office in late February.
“North Korea intentionally escalated tensions with its hostile rhetoric in March and April, but we maintained a firm deterrence posture,” Kim said in his opening remarks. “I think the tension was fairly well managed by soldiers from top to bottom as they were prepared to strike back if North Korea provoked.”
The meeting took place at a time of easing tensions as Pyongyang has toned down its bellicose rhetoric against Seoul and Washington in recent weeks after the allies’ joint drills were completed at the end of April.
Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin (third from left), Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Jung Seung-jo (second from left) and others salute the national flag at a meeting of top military commanders at the ministry in Seoul on Friday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
Faced with stronger U.N. sanctions imposed after its nuclear test in February, North Korea unleashed near-daily threats against the South and the U.S., vowing to attack them with nuclear weapons.
Shifting its tone, the North sent Choe Ryong-hae, a special envoy of leader Kim Jong-un, to China in late May and delivered a message to take “positive steps” for peace and stability.
During the meeting, Rear Adm. Jung Jin-seop, commander of the Navy’s Second Fleet based in Pyongtaek, south of Seoul, said border crossings by North Korean fishing boats and patrol ships in the tensely guarded western sea have risen lately, and the defense chief ordered the Navy to stay on guard to prevent potential clashes.
It’s the peak season for crab fishing, which means the two Korean navies are facing off in the Yellow Sea near the border.
Blue crabs are an important source of food and foreign exchange for the impoverished North and they are equally coveted by fishermen in the South.
The maritime sea border, the Northern Limit Line, is guarded by patrol ships, but fishing boats from North Korea and China cross the border daily.
According to the ministry, about 250-300 Chinese fishing boats and 150-200 North Korean boats are fishing near the northwestern islands in Yellow Sea.
“Our forces have been patrolling the area to prevent violations of the NLL,” Jung said. “We will sternly respond to any NLL violations.”
According to a senior military official, the number of border crossings has risen in past weeks as the crab season nears its end before summer, but the total number remains similar to those of previous years.
Lt. Gen. Choi Cha-kyu, the Air Force’s operation chief, said North Korean airmen do not currently carry out combat exercises, noting South Korean forces are prepared for any provocations.
On Friday, Seoul’s defense ministry welcomed Pyongyang’s proposal for talks, pledging to support the Park administration’s North Korean policy dubbed the “Korean Peninsula trust building process.”
“North Korea’s inter-Korean talks offer is expected to serve as a positive factor in maintaining peace on the Korean Peninsula,”
Army Col. Wi Yong-seop, vice spokesman for the ministry, said during a briefing. “Our military will support the trust-building process with firm military readiness under the current circumstances.” (Yonhap News)