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Yoon warns of NK election meddling

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : Jan. 31, 2024 - 14:50

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President Yoon Suk Yeol (second from left) salutes to the flag as he convenes the annual Central Integrated Defense Council meeting held at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Wednesday. (Presidential office) President Yoon Suk Yeol (second from left) salutes to the flag as he convenes the annual Central Integrated Defense Council meeting held at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Wednesday. (Presidential office)

President Yoon Suk Yeol on Wednesday said that South Korean armed forces should brace themselves for any potential interference by North Korea in the general election, which is less than three months away.

Yoon told an audience of some 170 people that the North Korean regime might intensify cyber warfare or spread misinformation in hopes of meddling in April's election, posing challenges to Seoul's democracy.

"North Korea has constantly sought to instigate freedom and democracy in South Korea to crumble," Yoon told participants at the annual Central Integrated Defense Council meeting held at Cheong Wa Dae, which was formerly used as the presidential office.

Wednesday's pangovernmental defense strategy meeting was aimed at monitoring the combined defense posture in response to North Korean threats, according to Yoon's office, based on scenarios that reflect diverse threats ranging from long-range artillery rockets to cyberattacks on critical infrastructures here, among other potential obstacles.

Yoon also labeled the North Korean regime "a group of loonies that institutionalized a preemptive nuclear attack."

Yoon started presiding over the annual defense meeting last year. His liberal predecessor Moon Jae-in did not attend the meetings during his term from 2017 to 2022.

"North Korea's societal disruption, psychological warfare and provocations in the year of significant political events in South Korea have been nothing new," Yoon said.

"This year, chances are that North Korea could carry out borderland military provocations, drone infiltration, spreading of fake news, cyberattacks and covert operations to interfere in the election."

The remarks came at a time as the ruling People Power Party is looking to flip seats in April's election, as it holds just 113 out of 298 seats in the National Assembly, giving the opposition bloc majority power to unilaterally pass bills without negotiation with the ruling conservatives.

Meanwhile, North Korea declared that it saw South Korea as a hostile state and said that it was no longer pursuing unification with the South in January. Missile provocations have been hastening, while Washington alleges that North Korea and Russia have engaged in arms trade.

North Korea believes that the opposition bloc's victory in the general election could undermine momentum for economic sanctions and pressures on the North Korean regime, as well as Seoul's joint defense posture with Japan and the United States against Pyongyang, Ko Jae-hong, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy, which is affiliated with the spy agency National Intelligence Service, wrote in a report on Jan. 9.

Ko also noted that North Korea may opt to either pose nuclear threats or attempt peace ploys to shake moderate voters' resolve in South Korea, both of which could be carried out to influence voters aggressively.

Meanwhile, Yoon's office said that 11 civilians were invited to the council meeting, making it the first to have civilian participants. Among them were people who helped authorities track down 22 Chinese nationals who attempted to illegally enter South Korea in October 2023, as well as residents in villages that sit near the border between the two Koreas.