South Korea has detected a sudden uptick in military inspections and drills in North Korea, indicative of the country’s efforts to gauge its combat readiness posture, which coincides with media rumors on the state of Kim Jong Un’s health.
South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said on Friday that North Korea has increased readiness actions for its artillery and air force, Yonhap News reported. Jeong said North Korea “has been heightening military tensions through an unusual increase in the inspection activities for its combat readiness posture, mostly of its artillery, and in its air force planes’ flight operations.”
A South Korean military Joint Chiefs of Staff officer observed heightened North Korean air operations including a number of surveillance flights along its demarcation with China over the Yellow Sea. Yonhap noted the demarcation area has not yet been fully declared by either China or North Korea.
The military moves coincide with rumors about the health condition of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, including that he may be dead.
While rumors began last week and have continued to speculate as to Kim’s health, South Korean leaders initially said they had not seen the type of increase in activities in North Korea that would suggest Kim is no longer in charge.
Kang Min Seok, a spokesman for President Moon Jae In recently told Yonhap that the South Korean government has seen no unusual signs out of North Korea.
“There is nothing we can confirm with regard to Chairman Kim’s alleged health problem,” Kang said at the time.
Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten also told reporters last week that the U.S. had seen no intelligence reports to support the rumors about Kim.
“I assume Kim Jong Un is still in full control of the Korean nuclear force and the Korean military forces,” Hyten said.
It is unclear if the recent activities in North Korea have raised any new speculation about South Korean officials as to Kim’s condition and whereabouts.
North Korea also conducted a number of recent weapons tests on April 14, including what appeared to be ballistic missile tests and flight tests by North Korean Sukhoi-variant fighter jets and MiG-type planes launching air-to-ship missiles into the sea.
The North Korean military activities come after failed denuclearization talks with the U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration. North Korea held several other weapons tests in the month of March. It was not clear from Jeong’s reported remarks as to whether the military activity he described included the other North Korean military actions in 2020, or if he was only referring to more recent activity.