x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

N Korea readies missile, hints at new leader

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il signals the anointment of his youngest son as heir to the ruling family dynasty.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has signalled the anointment of his youngest son as heir to the ruling family dynasty as the two Koreas bolstered their militaries along a disputed sea border today. The North was also readying to test-fire a mid-range missile, the South's Yonhap news agency reported a lawmaker as saying after a defence briefing. The South Korean lawmaker, who was not identified, said the launch was being prepared from a base in the southeastern part of the country. He offered no further details.

North Korea has hundreds of mid-range missiles. They have an estimated range of 1,000km to 1,400km and can hit all of South Korea and most of Japan. News of the missile launch preparations rattled financial markets in Seoul. Shares gave up earlier gains and briefly turned negative. By 8.18am, the Korea Composite Stock Price Index was up 0.36 per cent at 1,420.19 points. North Korea raised regional tensions last week with a nuclear test and by firing a barrage of short-range missiles.

Pyongyang has turned increasing belligerent since its internationally condemned nuclear test, actions analysts believe Kim Jong-il is using to give him greater leverage over power elites at home to nominate his own successor. It has raised alarm in the region over how far iron ruler Mr Jong-il, 67 and thought to have suffered a stroke last year, may be prepared to take his latest military grandstanding.

North Korea has asked the country's main bodies and its overseas missions to pledge loyalty to Mr Jong-il's youngest son Kim Jong-un, various South Korean media outlets quoted informed sources as saying. "I was notified by the South Korean government of such moves and the loyalty pledges," Park Jie-won, a member of the opposition Democratic Party, said in a statement. He declined to name his source but Yonhap said Park was among a group of lawmakers briefed on Monday night by the country's spy agency about the succession plans.

Mr Jong-un, born either in 1983 or early 1984, was educated in Switzerland and intelligence sources have said he appears to be the most capable of Mr Jong-il's three known sons. Even by North Korea's opaque standards, very little is known about the son, whose youth is a potential problem in a society that adheres closely to the importance of seniority. "There is a significant link between North Korea's recent military provocations and succession issues," said Lee Dong-bok, an expert on the North's negotiating tactics.

South Korea's Chosun Ilbo quoted a military source as saying the North had stepped up its military training, stockpiled ammunition and imposed a no-sail order off its west coast waters to prepare for a possible fight with the South. In Seoul, the navy said it was deploying a guided-missile naval vessel to the same area in the Yellow Sea, close to the disputed border that has seen two deadly clashes between the rival states in the past 10 years.

The navy rarely announces such moves and it underscores the hardline being taken towards its communist neighbour by conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who earlier in the day won support at a meeting he hosted of South-east Asian leaders who jointly condemned last week's nuclear test. Many analysts say the North may opt for a skirmish on the sea border as the next step as it ratchets up tension but few believe it would dare put its million-strong but poorly equipped army into direct battle with the US-backed South Korean military.

* Reuters