Kim's speech draws skepticism from ROK

Updated: 2014-01-04 01:38

By Zhao Shengnan in Beijing and Zhang Qing from Xinhua in Seoul (China Daily)

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Seoul allocates $3.6 million to aim surveillance beacons toward DPRK

Seoul on Friday dismissed Pyongyang's top leader's recent conciliatory words as an empty gesture, urging the country to scrap its nuclear programs to show its commitment to better relations.

The remarks coincided with the Republic of Korea's reported plans to deploy surveillance radar to a northwestern island in order to step up monitoring of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Kim Jong-un, the DPRK's leader, called for a "favorable climate" to improve ties with the ROK Wednesday in a televised New Year's message.

It is time that the two neighbors stopped doing "anything detrimental to national unity and reconciliation", Kim said in his second such speech since taking office in late 2012.

In its first official response to the speech, Seoul said it was skeptical of Kim's intentions.

"Peace and reconciliation cannot be achieved merely by words. In order to improve mutual ties, North Korea must show sincerity in building trust, and above all, it must make genuine efforts for denuclearization," Seoul said in a statement.

Huang Youfu, a professor of Korean studies at Minzu University of China, said Seoul remains cautious of Kim's unusual peace appeal, as it does not want to fall, once more, for Pyongyang's customary approach of sending a friendly message that is followed up by hard-line actions.

Pyongyang issued similar rhetoric last year, then made provocations afterward that included a third nuclear test, threats of nuclear war and unilateral closure of the Kaesong industrial complex, a spokesman from ROK's unification ministry said Friday.

Seoul "has no choice but to question the sincerity" of Kim's conciliatory stance, the spokesman said.

"What can improve the two countries' relations and what Seoul expects to see from Kim's speech is even a hint of DPRK's denuclearization," Huang said, but Kim emphasized that the country's current strategies put economic development and nuclear weapons development on equal footing.

In the New Year's address, Kim warned that a massive nuclear disaster would occur if an all-out war broke out on the Korean Peninsula.

Considering Kim's frequent inspections of the DPRK armed forces recently, the ROK should feel obliged to stay vigilant, Huang said.

The ROK defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin, said on Thursday that the apparent peace overtures from the DPRK might be a "smoke screen" meant to hide a provocative act.

The minister said last month that Pyongyang likely would provoke tensions between late January and early March this year following the execution of Jang Song-thaek, Kim's once-powerful uncle.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the ROK government has allocated $3.6 million to placing six short-range spy radar beacons on Gyodong Island in the Yellow Sea this year.

"This radar would strengthen monitoring of North Korea from Gyodong Island, which has been considered a vulnerable region," the agency quoted an anonymous official as saying.

The strategically vital island is only 20 km south of the 38th parallel that roughly divides the two countries and is 50 km east of the sites of three major DPRK offshore provocations that have taken place over the past decade.

The radar installations have a maximum detection range of 5 km and are capable of monitoring moving objects at night and in bad weather.

The ROK's latest move is likely to irritate Pyongyang and may cause it to become increasingly aggressive, said Huang.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Seoul should make a more diplomatic response to Kim's gesture.

"Kim Jong-un's speech was positive given that he touched on improved inter-Korean relations in a direct way, while refraining from making hostile comments against the United States," Yang told Xinhua.

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AFP contributed to this story.