South Korea’s government held an emergency meeting Sunday, less than 24 hours after North Korea displayed a slew of new strategic weapons, including a massive intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), at a military parade.
An emotionally-charged speech given by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the event — held to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party — was discussed, South Korea’s presidential office said in statement.
The new weapons which included a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and Seoul’s defense capabilities against them were also talked about, that statement said. It added that inter-Korean agreements made to prevent mutual military confrontation and war “must be abided to.”
Separately, a spokesman for the South Korean defense ministry said Sunday it had expressed “concern” over North Korea’s disclosure of weapons and was analyzing the new weapons in detail alongside Washington. A senior U.S. official told NBC News North Korea’s display of weapons “was disappointing.”
The ICBM displayed on Saturday is one of the biggest in the world in terms of range, said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, lecturer in international relations at King’s College London.
But he said it was unlikely to unnerve South Korea from a military point of view as it is designed for targets further away. North Korea already has an arsenal of other weapons that could threaten Seoul, he added.
From “a political point of view, it complicates inter-Korean relations,” he said, because it “goes against existing agreements and sanctions, and makes diplomacy more difficult.”
With the U.S. presidential election taking place next month, the timing of the parade was “not unexpected,” said Edward Howell, a lecturer in politics and North Korea expert at U.K.’s University of Oxford.
North Korea has often held similar parades, which offer an opportunity for the North to demonstrate to its people, but also, and importantly, to the outside world, its nuclear and military capabilities, Howell said.
Kim pledged to demonstrate a “new strategic weapon” in December 2019 and the ICBM and SLBM were likely the weapons he was talking about, Howell added.
The parade came weeks after a South Korean fisheries official was killed by troops from the North.
The incident shocked and enraged many in the South and became the latest point of tension between the two neighbors that saw the relations reach a new low earlier this year when North Korea blew up a liaison office on the border between the two countries and cut off all communication with the South.
Technically the countries remain at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.
Pyongyang’s nuclear negotiations with President Donald Trump’s administration also remain deadlocked after several summits that did not result in a solid plan to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
Although Kim vowed in Saturday’s speech to “fully mobilize” should his country be threatened, he said he hoped the North and South would hold hands again.
Seoul’s unification ministry, which handles cross-border affairs, said it had noted Kim’s comments.
“I think that Kim Jong-un is signaling that he wants to resume inter-Korean relations when it’s possible,” Pacheco Pardo said.
That would be contingent on an agreement between the U.S. and North Korea, leading to sanctions relief and inter-Korean economic engagement, he added.
“But Kim is also signaling that his military deterrence is here to stay unless there is an agreement with the U.S., better North Korea-U.S. relations and better inter-Korean relations,” he said.