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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korean state-run media on Friday denounced Seoul’s approval for the biggest South Korean defense budget increase in 11 years, warning that it could result in “catastrophic consequences”.
The critique notably came after unprecedented scenes of inter-Korean military cooperation on Wednesday, when soldiers from the two sides were filmed completing verification of the removal of guard posts along the demilitarized zone (DMZ )
“(The budget increase) is a flagrant violation of inter-Korean declarations and military agreement and grave challenge, which runs counter to the improvement of North-South relations and … alleviating the situation on the Korean peninsula,” the Uriminzokkiri website said.
South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) had on Monday announced that approximately KRW 46.7 trillion (USD$41.4 billion) would be allocated for 2019’s annual budget, after the National Assembly approved a proposal request on December 8.
The MND’s expanded budget is roughly 125% more than the entire value of North Korea’s gross national income (GNI), which according to 2018 Bank of Korea estimates is 36.6 trillion KRW.
Marking an increase of 8.2 percent – the highest since 2008 – the ministry proposed the extra budget to “build a strong national defense which is capable of effectively responding to any kind of threats in an uncertain security environment.”
In expressing upset at the increase, Uriminzokkiri, in particular, criticized Seoul’s decision to boost financial support for the development of a three-axis defense system to counter Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threats.
The three-axis system — which the government aims to complete by 2022 — includes the Kill Chain pre-emptive strike program, Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD), and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) systems.
“South Korean authorities would know that inter-Korean relations, which had amicably improved in the past, suddenly became strained and returned to the confrontation phase,” Uriminzokkiri said. “(This) is related to the military buildup and intensification of tensions.”
Meanwhile, North Korean outlet Arirang-Meari on Friday said the improvement of inter-Korean relations and simultaneous build-up of arms “cannot be compatible.”
It accused Seoul of “provoking its counterpart by increasing military spending” at a time when the two Koreas took their “first step in implementing the project of easing hostility and military tensions.”
It added that Pyongyang “cannot but laugh” when looking back at South Korean military and political figures who previously described North Korea’s own “reinforcement of national defense” as a “provocation”.
In a separate article published the same day, Arirang-Meari denounced South Korean Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo’s remarks at a meeting with 140 key military commanders and personnel on December 5.
Jeong said that despite recent efforts to ease tensions, the role of the South Korean military should remain unchanged and it should continue to enhance capabilities in preparation for the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON).
“The history of North-South relations (teaches us) that genuine reconciliation and unity cannot be achieved with a counterpart who conceals a knife inside,” Arirang-Meari said of his remarks.
BREACH OF AGREEMENT
Amid recent efforts to alleviate military tensions, North Korean outlets also carried articles from Monday denouncing the South Korean military for breaching aspects of the inter-Korean military agreement.
North Korean state media including Uriminzokkiri, Arirang-Meari, and DPRK Today criticized the South Korean government for purchasing an Israeli-made Green PineBlock C radar and Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.
Wednesday saw the Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), also warn in a commentary of “consequences to be entailed by the reckless arms build-up and war drills”.
Citing the introduction of new weapons systems and independent combat exercises of the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) conducted between December 3 and 7, the Rodong reiterated the moves run counter to the implementation of September’s inter-Korean military agreement – where the two Koreas committed to “removing the danger of war practically and terminating hostile relations.”
The North Korean newspaper continued that the behavior of the current South Korean military was “no different from the reckless acts in the era of confrontation when warmongers tried to ignite a war clamoring about the ‘the theory that the North is a principal enemy’ and ‘preemptive attack.'”
“The military should learn a lesson from the reckless act of the former conservative regime which resorted to the foolish military confrontation with the north to drive the inter-Korean ties to the brink of war.”
Edited by Chad O’Carroll
Featured Image: the ROK Ministry of National Defense (MND)