NORTH KOREA’s dictator Kim Jong Un has touted the country’s nuclear weapons programme and promoted his sister to a senior position within the regime’s politburo, as Washington and Seoul step up reconnaissance operations against Pyongyang.
He said his nuclear weapons were a “powerful deterrent” that guaranteed its sovereignty, state media reported on Sunday, hours after US President Donald Trump said “only one thing will work” in dealing with the isolated country.
A South Korean military official quoted by the country’s state media outlet Yonhap on Sunday said that there were no immediate signs of North Korea provoking the US, “but some movements have been continuously detected from the North’s missile facilities and bases.”
“We are maintaining the heightened reconnaissance and preparedness posture,” he said.
US Forces Korea has reportedly stepped up its reconnaissance aircraft operations, while also running maritime and land-based radar systems to detect possible ballistic missile launches from North Korea.
On Sunday, Trump did not make clear to what he was referring to with “only one thing”, but his comments seemed to be a further suggestion that military action was on his mind.
In a speech to a meeting of the powerful Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party on Saturday, North Korean state media said Jong Un had addressed the “complicated international situation.”
North Korea’s nuclear weapons are a “powerful deterrent firmly safeguarding the peace and security in the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia,” he said, referring to the “protracted nuclear threats of the US imperialists.”
In recent weeks, North Korea has launched two missiles over Japan and conducted its sixth nuclear test, and maybe fast advancing toward its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US mainland.
North Korea is preparing to test-launch such a missile, Russian lawmaker Anton Morozov who had just returned from a visit to Pyongyang said on Friday.
“They even gave us mathematical calculations that they believe prove that their missile can hit the west coast of the United States,” Russian news agency RIA quoted Morozov as saying.
“As far as we understand, they intend to launch one more long-range missile in the near future.”
Trump has previously said the US would “totally destroy” North Korea if necessary to protect itself and its allies.
The situation proved that North Korea’s policy of “byungjin”, meaning the parallel development of nuclear weapons and the economy was “absolutely right”, Jong Un said in the speech.
“The national economy has grown on their strength this year, despite the escalating sanctions,” he said, referring to UN Security Council resolutions put in place to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes.
The meeting also handled some personnel changes inside North Korea’s secretive and opaque ruling centre of power, state media said.
Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, was made an alternate member of the politburo – the top decision-making body over which Jong Un presides.
Alongside Jong Un himself, the promotion makes Yo Jong the only other millennial member of the influential body.
Her new position indicates the 28-year-old has become a replacement for Jong Un’s aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, who had been a key decision maker when former leader Kim Jong Il was alive.
“It shows that her portfolio and writ is far more substantive than previously believed and it is a further consolidation of the Kim family’s power,” said Michael Madden, a North Korea expert at Johns Hopkins University’s 38 North website.
In January, the US Treasury blacklisted Yo Jong along with other North Korean officials over “severe human rights abuses”.
Kim Jong Sik and Ri Pyong Chol, two of the three men behind Jong Un’s banned rocket programme, were also promoted.
State media announced that several other high-ranking cadres were promoted to the Central Committee in what the South Korean unification ministry said could be an attempt by North Korea to navigate a way through its increasing isolation.
“The large-scale personnel reshuffle reflects that Kim Jong Un is taking the current situation seriously, and that he’s looking for a breakthrough by promoting a new generation of politicians,” the ministry said in a statement.
North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho, who named Donald Trump “President Evil” in a bombastic speech to the UN General Assembly last month, was promoted to full vote-carrying member of the politburo.
“Ri can now be safely identified as one of North Korea’s top policymakers,” Madden said.
“Even if he has informal or off the record meetings, Ri’s interlocutors can be assured that whatever proposals they proffer will be taken directly to the top,” he said.
Additional reporting by Reuters