Defense chief nominee vows firm military readiness to counter all types of threats

SEOUL, Sept. 17 (Yonhap) -- Defense Minister nominee Jeong Kyeong-doo vowed to secure capabilities to counter a "full spectrum of security threats" in a "transitional period" marked by uncertainties during his parliamentary confirmation hearing Monday.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also said that if appointed, he would strive to develop a "future-oriented, mutually complementary" alliance with the United States as Seoul seeks to retake wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington.

"Despite aspirations for the settlement of the North Korean nuclear issue and the establishment of a peace regime, the Korean Peninsula now faces a transitional period where the security situation is uncertain," the Air Force general said.

"(Our military) will work to secure our own capabilities to respond to a full spectrum of security threats so as to safeguard the safety and lives of our citizens from existing threats, potential threats and various other threats, such as transnational and nonmilitary ones," he added.

The hearing at the National Assembly was held just a day before President Moon Jae-in's three-day trip to Pyongyang for his third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, where the denuclearization will be high on the agenda.

Referring to the planned summit, Jeong said the South Korean military has kept its readiness posture "stronger than usual."

Asked about speculation that Seoul might delete the reference to Pyongyang's military as an enemy in this year's edition of its defense white paper, the nominee said that he will strive to find an "optimal expression" that can encompass a wide range of threats facing the country.

"As the security environment changes, cyberterrorism and hacking are also our enemies," he said. "The (existing) white paper does not comprehensively cover all these," he said.

During the hearing, he also voiced his support for the proposal to declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

"The declaration is a political one to continuously guarantee the process of North Korea's denuclearization and the establishment of a peace regime," he said.

Touching on a now-disbanded security unit's alleged consideration of martial law to quell anti-government protests last year, Jeong refused to comment on it in detail, but called it "wrong."

While noting the importance of the "trust-based" alliance with the U.S., Jeong said that he would seek to strengthen South Korea's capability to lead military operations in preparation for the OPCON transfer.

The allies have been discussing the "conditions-based" OPCON transfer, after which South Korea will lead wartime operations with the U.S. playing a supporting role.

The nominee also pledged to capitalize on cutting-edge technologies to complete the ongoing defense reform initiative aimed at creating a smaller yet smarter military.

"By applying to the military the dramatic changes in the science and technologies that have been brought about by the fourth industrial revolution, our military will be reborn as qualitatively strong, high-tech elite forces," he said.

Jeong's appointment does not require parliamentary approval but disapproval often imposes a political burden on the president and nominee.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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