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Asia

South Korea nervous as the North beefs up military

While North Korea is busy expanding its military capacities and South Korea vows in a defense white paper to take a harder stance toward its unruly neighbor, China and Russia are urging the two to commence talks.

A recent demonstration against North Korea in Seoul

A recent demonstration against North Korea in Seoul

According to South Korea’s defense white paper published on Thursday, the North is building up its military capacities, thus posing a direct threat to the South. The paper, which comes out every two years, says the North has increased its special forces trained to infiltrate South Korea by 20,000 troops and stationed long-range artillery and 200 tanks along the border of the two countries. After Seoul dropped this designation in 2010, North Korea has again been upgraded to the status of an "enemy", who is seen as a "serious and direct threat" to South Korea. The white paper indicates the South would take a firmer approach to provocations from the North.

North Korea is busy beefing up its military capacities, thus threatening its Southern neighbor

North Korea is busy beefing up its military capacities, thus threatening its Southern neighbor

Since the sinking of the South Korean Cheonan early 2010, in which 46 South Korean sailors were killed, and North Korea’s shelling of Southern territory, which killed four people in November, tensions have been extremely high between the two countries, who technically still remain at war.

While South Korean media quoted Deputy Defense Minister Chang Kwang-il saying "Threats from North Korea’s (…) warfare capabilities (…) have been on a steady rise since 2008," it was also reported that North Korea’s weapons could not compete with those of South Korea and the United States. News of a sizeable uranium enrichment plant was made public when a US expert was recently granted access from the North. But despite nuclear tests carried out by the isolated country in 2006 and 2009, experts do not believe that Pyongyang will possess the technology to create sophisticated nuclear weapons any time soon.

Denuclearization urgent

a giant offshore crane salvages the bow section of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan off Baengnyeong Island, South Korea. Investigators in Seoul say they have proof that North Korea fired a torpedo that sank a South Korean warship.

The South Korean naval ship Cheonan was sunk in March 2010 - experts say by North Korea

Concerned about the tensions, China has been urging Pyongyang to resume the six-party negotiations to end North Korea’s nuclear program. China has been the host of the six-country talks which also include North and South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States. The talks last took place before North Korea walked out in April 2009. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said, "Dialogue and negotiation is the only right approach to resolve peninsula-related issues and achieve enduring peace on the peninsula." Russia has also called on both Koreas to resume negotiations and stop their "muscle flexing".

South Korean president Lee Myung-bak has also emphasized that denuclearization is urgent. He pointed out that North Korea has made it its goal to become a powerful nation by the year 2012, which is the birth centenary of the founder Kim Il-Sung.

Author: Sarah Berning (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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