President Yoon Suk-yeol calls for strong missile defense against North Korea

President Yoon Suk-yeol, right, in a policy briefing meeting with Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup at the presidential office in Seoul on Friday. [PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE OF KOREA]
President Yoon Suk-yeol, right, in a policy briefing meeting with Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup at the presidential office in Seoul on Friday. [PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE OF KOREA]

President Yoon Suk-yeol ordered the creation of a strong missile defense mechanism against North Korean nuclear threat on Friday.

In a policy meeting with Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup at the presidential office, Yoon ordered Lee to “make every effort to construct a dense and efficient missile defense system to counter the North Korean nuclear threat,” according to presidential spokesperson Kang In-sun.

Yoon also ordered the ministry to “normalize” joint military exercises with the United States, including field maneuvers, and ensure that there is substantial training within the Ulchi Freedom Shield, the joint exercises scheduled from Aug. 22 to Sept. 1.

The Ulchi Freedom Shield includes computer simulation-based training and field maneuvers between Seoul and Washington, and is considered a revival of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills that were scrapped in 2018.

The military training was largely reduced to computer simulations during the former Moon Jae-in administration, for reasons including the Covid-19 pandemic and the Moon government’s policy that emphasized peace and dialogue with the North.

Policies to increase exports of Korean defense and military equipment were also discussed during the meeting, according to the presidential office.

In response to a question from the press on the South Korean three-axis system following the meeting, Lee said that the timeline for the deployment of strategic development of the system could be as early as 2027.

The system refers to three defenses against North Korean nuclear and missile threats: a Kill Chain pre-emptive strike system, Korean Air and Missile Defense system, and Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation plan.

In his meeting with Unification Minister Kwon Young-se on Friday afternoon, Yoon ordered the ministry to come up with a policy to ensure North Korea is offered “realistic measures” in economic cooperation and security guarantees, should it decide to take significant steps toward denuclearization.

“Remember that the Constitution states unification should be a process whereby the peoples of both South and North Korea are at the center of the decisions,” Yoon was quoted by his office to have told Kwon.

He also ordered the ministry to quickly establish the North Korean human rights foundation, which has been pending since 2016 when a law for its establishment was passed.

The meeting did not touch upon the recent controversy surrounding the repatriation of two North Korean fishermen in 2019, Kwon told the press afterward.

Foreign Minister Park Jin reported to Yoon on Thursday about Korea’s ties with the United States, Japan, and China.

Yoon called for “active diplomacy based on universal norms and values,” urging Park to promote diplomacy with its four main neighbors, namely the United States, Russia, China, and Japan, while focusing on a stronger U.S.-Korea alliance, and maximizing Korea’s national interests by expanding diplomatic overtures in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

“Economic diplomacy is the most important,” Yoon was quoted to have said in the meeting by his office. “If it is helpful to our economy, I will go anywhere.”

After the meeting, Park stressed that ties with Japan will be improved and cooperation with China not be neglected.

“The discussions on Korea possibly joining the Chip 4 and Korea’s membership of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is not meant as a signal to leave out certain nations,” Park told the press on Thursday. “[President Yoon] ordered that we explain our position to China beforehand, closely and in detail, so that there are no misunderstandings.”

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]