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North Korea’s Kim warns of naval instability amidst US, Japan, South Korea joint exercises

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North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, has raised concerns about escalating instability in the waters around the Korean Peninsula, warning of the potential for nuclear conflict. This statement coincided with joint naval missile defense exercises conducted by the United States, South Korea, and Japan.

In a message conveyed through North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, Kim Jong Un marked Navy Day by denouncing US-led hostilities in the peninsula’s waters, stating they have elevated the risk of a nuclear war. Kim vowed to enhance naval capabilities in response to this perceived threat.

Kim was quoted as saying, “Due to the provocative actions of the US and other hostile forces, the waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula have transformed into a global hotspot of military hardware concentration, characterized by extreme instability and the potential for nuclear conflict.”

Kim cited recent US naval maneuvers alongside its allies, the deployment of potent US weaponry in South Korea, and a tripartite summit involving the US, South Korea, and Japan. During this summit, the three nations agreed to bolster defense collaboration with the goal of curbing North Korea’s nuclear activities. Kim referred to US President Joe Biden, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as “ringleaders” of their respective countries.

This tripartite meeting, held on August 18 at Camp David in Maryland, marked the first standalone gathering of these leaders. They collectively pledged to deepen both military and economic cooperation to project a unified front against China’s assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region and North Korea’s nuclear threats and aggressive missile tests.

On the same day as Kim’s statement, the three nations participated in joint drills within international waters off South Korea’s Jeju island. The focus of these exercises was to practice protocols for identifying, tracking, and sharing intelligence regarding incoming North Korean missiles. This follows bilateral military drills initiated by the US and South Korea the previous week.

During his Navy Day address, Kim asserted that each military branch would receive new weaponry as part of an expansion of tactical nuclear weapons operations. Despite acknowledging that the navy lacked up-to-date armaments, Kim highlighted their achievements as significant. He pledged that the navy would receive advanced weaponry, positioning it as a vital element of North Korea’s state nuclear deterrence strategy. This statement suggests North Korea’s intention to equip its navy and other armed services with new nuclear-capable missiles.

South Korean analyst Cheong Seong-chang speculated that with joint naval exercises conducted by the US, South Korea, and Japan, North Korea might perceive a need to strengthen its naval capabilities. He even pointed to potential joint naval training between North Korea and Russia. However, North Korea’s navy currently faces limitations, prompting Kim Jong Un to demonstrate his commitment to fortifying these forces.

Yonhap News Agency, a South Korean news outlet, quoted a government official who suggested that Kim’s actions reflect a sense of crisis as military cooperation tightens between South Korea, the US, and Japan. The official implied that Kim’s display of his daughter, Ju Ae, during a navy inspection might be tied to this perceived urgency.

Photos published by North Korea’s official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, depicted Kim Jong Un inspecting naval operations while accompanied by his daughter, Ju Ae. This marked Ju Ae’s first public appearance alongside her father since mid-May.

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