North Korea’s Kim lays out key goals to boost military power

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presented unspecified goals to further bolster his military power next year at a meeting of top political officials, state media reported Wednesday, in an indication he’ll continue his provocative run of weapons displays.

Kim’s statement came as animosities with rival South Korea rose sharply this week as the South accused the North of flying drones across the rivals’ border for the first time in five years. This year, North Korea already performed a record number of missile tests in what experts call an attempt to modernize its arsenal and increase its leverage in future dealings with the United States.

During the Tuesday session at the ongoing plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party, Kim analyzed new security challenges in international politics and on the Korean Peninsula and clarified principles and directions to take in external relations and fights against enemies to protect national interests and sovereignty, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

Kim “set forth new key goals for bolstering up the self-reliant defense capability to be pushed ahead with in 2023 under the multilaterally changing situation,” KCNA said, without elaborating.

Some observers say the new goals could be related to Kim’s push to expand his nuclear arsenal and introduce a spate of high-tech weapons systems such as multi-warhead missiles, a more agile long-range weapon, a spy satellite and advanced drones. They say Kim would eventually aim to use his boosted nuclear capability to force its rivals to accept the North as a legitimate nuclear state, a status he would think is essential in getting international sanctions on his country to be lifted.

On Monday, South Korea’s military fired warning shots and launched fighter jets and helicopters, after detecting what it called five North Korean drones that violated the South’s airspace. South Korea also flown its own surveillance assets, in a likely reference to unmanned drones, across the border into North Korea in response.

South Korea’s military said it had failed to shoot down the drones and offered a public apology over causing security concerns. President Yoon Suk Yeol called for strong air defense and high-tech stealth drones to better monitor North Korea.

Some experts say the North Korean drone flights might have been designed to test South Korean and U.S. readiness and neutralize a previous inter-Korean tension-reduction agreement. They say North Korea likely assess its drone flights has caused security jitters and a domestic divide in South Korea.

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