North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has opened a meeting of senior military officials to discuss national defence policies and a continuing arms buildup following a series of ballistic missile tests this year that have stirred tensions with Washington and Seoul.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Wednesday that Kim presided over a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Military Commission that began on Tuesday to review defence work during the first half of 2022 and confirm “crucial and urgent tasks” to expand military capabilities and implement key defence policies.
The report did not specify any plans or mention critical remarks towards the United States or rival South Korea.
US and South Korean officials have said in recent months that Pyongyang could be preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017, as Kim escalates brinkmanship aimed at cementing North Korea’s status as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
KCNA said the commission started discussing the agenda that was presented, indicating the meeting might continue for days.
The members could discuss the progress in weapons development and plans to deploy some of the systems that have been tested in recent months, including a purported hypersonic missile, a long-range cruise missile and the country’s newest intercontinental ballistic missile, said Cheong Seong-Chang, a senior analyst at South Korea’s private Sejong Institute.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting with military leaders.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea on June 22, 2022 [KCNA via Reuters]
North Korea’s ramped-up testing activity has taken place under a five-year arms development plan Kim announced in early 2021 when he revealed an extensive wish list of advanced military assets, including tactical nuclear weapons, nuclear-powered submarines, multi-warhead missiles and solid-fuel, long-range weapons.
The meeting follows another major political conference earlier this month where Kim doubled down on his arms buildup in the face of what he described as an aggravating security environment and set forth further “militant tasks” to be pursued by his armed forces and military scientists.
North Korea has already set an annual record in ballistic launches in the first half of 2022, firing 31 missiles in more than 18 different launch events, including its first demonstrations of ICBMs in nearly five years. South Korea’s military also detected its northern neighbour firing suspected artillery shells into the sea last week.
US and South Korean officials say North Korea has all but finished preparations to detonate a nuclear device at its testing ground in the northeastern town of Punggye-ri. North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test in September 2017, when it said it detonated a thermonuclear bomb designed for its ICBMs. However, it said the following year that it dismantled the facility.
North Korea’s unusually fast pace in testing activity underscores Kim’s dual intent to advance his arsenal and pressure US President Joe Biden over long-stalled nuclear diplomacy, experts say.
While the US has said it would push for additional sanctions if North Korea conducts another nuclear test, the divisions between permanent members of the UN Security Council make the prospects for meaningful punitive measures unclear.
Russia and China this year vetoed US-sponsored resolutions that would have increased sanctions, insisting Washington should focus on reviving dialogue.