North Korea has once again criticized joint military exercises conducted by the US and South Korea. The drills come as tension on the Korean peninsula is high and speculation about the leadership in Pyongyang is rife.
The USS Blue Ridge LCC19 at anchor in a naval port in Busan, South Korea
Ulchi Freedom Guardian is the name of a drill that the US and South Korea conduct every year, in which all the action takes place at the computer. The drill simulates an attack on North Korea via land and water and with nuclear weapons.
The virtual drills in theory involve over 50,000 South Korean soldiers and some 30,000 US troops. North Korea always criticizes the drills as an invasion rehearsal and vows to retaliate.
There is also criticism of the joint exercises in South Korea, where citizens sometimes take to the streets to protest.
"The US and South Korea claim that it is purely a defensive maneuver but it’s obvious that it's about an attack. This maneuver is a threat to peace on the Korean peninsula and we call for it to be stopped immediately," one protest leader explained.
A South Korean navy officer during military drills
North Korean reaction hard to predict
It is hard to predict how North Korea could react to the drills this time round, especially as tension has been extremely high ever since a South Korean warship was sunk by a suspected North Korean torpedo.
The isolated state is gearing up for a meeting in September at which party delegates are expected to elect the new party leadership. The last time the Worker's Party held a full-scale conference was in 1966. Out of 19 elected at the time, there are only three active members left, including Kim Jong Il.
There has been speculation that the North Korean leader might use September's assembly to bring his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, officially into play in view of naming him as his successor. He might either be elected as a member of the politburo itself or as a member of the powerful National Defense Commission.
However, because Kim Jong Un is still young and relatively inexperienced, there is also speculation that his father's trusted confidant, his brother-in-law Jang Sung Taek, might take over the reins in the short term.
Jang Sung Taek was appointed by the People's Assembly in Pyongyang as the vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission earlier this year.
North Koreans marked the 65th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japanese rule on Sunday
Pyongyang could use external threat scenario
The North Korean economy is in a highly precarious state and there are food shortages in the country. Observers think the leadership might well use the scenario of an external threat to keep the population in line.
It would not be unthinkable for North Korea to test another nuclear bomb and put down its success to Kim Jong Un.
In light of the high tension between the two Koreas and the uncertainty over Kim Jong Il's successor, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has raised the possibility of reunification once again.
"A reunification will definitely take place sometime," he said on Sunday. "Therefore, it is our task to start thinking about who this goal can be reached."
Lee has proposed a special reunification tax and outlined a three-step plan for achieving this goal. However, observers do not think that reunification is going to happen any time soon.
Author: Peter Kujath / act
Editor: Disha Uppal