UPDATE : 2019.6.27 THU 10:57
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‘There is no change in our defense of NLL despite thaw in inter-Korean relations’JCF head nominee says

Gen. Park Han-ki, of the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army, nominee for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the ROK Armed Forces stated today (Oct. 5) that there's no change in the ROK Armed Forces' resolve to defend the de facto maritime border with North Korea, called the Northern Limit Line (NLL)--despite detente on the peninsula.

Gen. Park, nominated to lead the JCS, described the NLL as a line that the ROK has defended "with blood."

Some South Koreans, especially conservatives, are increasingly concerned over the ROK's defense posture amid a recent peace mood driven by a series of inter-Korean summit talks.

Earlier this month, the two sides struck a major military agreement on a set of concrete measures to ease border tensions.

Army Gen. Park Han-ki, the nominee to become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), speaks during his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly on Oct. 5, 2018. (Yonhap)

Those include the establishment of maritime, air and ground buffer zones in front-line areas and the pullout of guard posts (GPs) from the demilitarized zone (DMZ) bisecting the peninsula.

"(They) agreed to completely withdraw the GPs in a year, by the end of next year," Park said during his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly.

Even if the South moves away the GPs, there will be no actual impact to its combat readiness, he added.

Thanks to the military agreement designed to implement the April 27 Panmunjom summit accord, Park said, the risk of armed clashes around the NLL and in other border areas "reduced fundamentally."

Asked about the biggest security threat to South Korea, he said, "Our existing enemy ... It's North Korea, which is a clear enemy that threatens the Republic of Korea."

On the North's nuclear program, the general said the dismantlement of the North's main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, if done, will be very meaningful as a starting point for denuclearization and lead to significant progress in the overall process.

In his latest meeting with President Moon Jae-in, the North's leader Kim Jong-un said his regime can permanently shut down the facilities if the United States takes reciprocal steps, apparently including the declaration of an end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

Reading out a statement at the outset of the hearing, he pledged every effort for the success of defense reform.

"Currently, the security of the Korean Peninsula is in a big transformational period, moving toward peace and prosperity," he said.

In Northeast Asia, he added, "strategic resilience" is growing amid competing national interests. Cyber threats have also increased, he said.

"I will do my best to make a high-morale, combat-winning military to defend the country and the people and receive public trust," he said.

Park put forward his four key priorities: stable reform of the military, a firm defense posture, solid communication-based internal unity and deterrence based on combined operations.

He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1983 following his graduation from the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program at the University of Seoul.

If appointed, he will become the first head of the country's JCS with a ROTC background in two decades.

He has served as the commander of the 2nd Operational Command, headquartered in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, since last year.

Kim Jung-mi  edt@koreapost.com

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