SEOUL, South Korea - As South Korea’s newly elected President Moon Jae-in claimed victory in the elections earlier last week, he entered the most critical position of power, expressing interest in meeting the North Korean dictator to ease relations.
However, North Korea welcomed him to the region’s troubles, by conducting what it called its most successful missile test to date.
Moon Jae-in, who has vowed to deliver a dramatic shift in South Korean direction after years of conservative rule - is seeking a two-track policy in dealing with his country’s defiant neighbor.
His policy to rein in North Korea, involves sanctions and dialogue.
On Wednesday however, as if struck by a heavy bearing reality, Jae-in said there was a "high possibility" of conflict with North Korea.
South Korea, hours earlier had said that it wanted to reopen a channel of dialogue with North Korea.
Meanwhile, Pyongyang has made a huge show of of its advancing nuclear and missile programmes that the Kim Jong Un-led regime claims is needed to counter U.S. aggression.
Earlier this week, North Korea said that it now possesses a missile that is capable of carrying a “large, heavy nuclear warhead.”
It said it had successfully conducted its seventh missile test this year on Sunday, with the firing of the new strategic ballistic missile named Hwasong-12, that was personally supervised by Kim Jong Un.
The country claimed that the missile was a new model, with the country’s state media warning that U.S. territories were within reach and that the North was capable of a retaliatory strike.
In launching the missile on a day when its only major regional ally, China was hosting its biggest diplomatic event of the year - North Korea ignored calls to halt its nuclear and missile programmes and its actions continued to be in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
Speaking at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul on Wednesday, Jae-in said, “The reality is that there is a high possibility of a military conflict at the NLL (Northern Limit Line) and military demarcation line.”
He further noted that the North's nuclear and missile capabilities seem to have advanced rapidly recently but that the South was ready and capable of striking back should the North attack.
The newly elected president said that North must change its attitude of insisting on pressing ahead with its arms development before dialogue is possible.
Meanwhile, addressing reporters, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Duk-haeng said the government's most basic stance is that communication lines between South and North Korea should reopen.
Adding, “The Unification Ministry has considered options on this internally but nothing has been decided yet.”
Lee noted that communications were severed by the North last year after being slapped by new sanctions following its fifth and most powerful nuclear test.
Pyongyang also decided to shut down a joint industrial zone operated inside the North.
THAAD and Sanctions
Sunday’s test launch by North Korea was detected by the controversial U.S. anti-missile system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) - even as debate over who would pay for the radar system continues.
Apart from the payment issues, a bigger problem that South Korea’s new president would have to deal with is the anger in China due to the deployment of the controversial anti-missile system.
Both China and Russia have strongly opposed the THAAD deployment, claiming it would destabilise regional security balance, and pointing out that the missile system has radars that are capable of peering deep into parts of either countries.
Further, the system, that has been installed at an abandoned golf course in Seongju, 135 miles southeast of Seoul has also drawn the ire of people of South Korea.
Residents of Seongju County, a town of 45,000 people situated around 200 kms from Seoul, have claimed that the THAAD deployment will ruin their melon farms and that it will cause health and environmental hazards.
South Korean officials had however dismissed the idea that THAAD radar systems emit electromagnetic waves that can cause health problems and have argued that the U.S. system cannot cause any harm if people stay at least 100 metres away from it.
In his first speech as president, Jae-in said, “I’ll sincerely negotiate with the U.S. and China to solve the THAAD issue.”
Meanwhile, the United States said on Tuesday that it believed it could persuade China to impose new UN sanctions on North Korea.
It has warned that Washington would also target and "call out" countries supporting Pyongyang.