South Korea says no chance North will go to war

By Jonathan Thatcher

SEOUL (BestGrowthStock) – South Korea sees no chance of the latest tension on the divided peninsula turning to outright war but is deeply concerned that the North may try terror attacks on civilians, a high ranking South Korean official said on Friday.

He also said that though both sides have been careful not to push too far, Seoul was ready to send in troops if there is what he called “extreme provocation” by the North.

Relations on the peninsula have plunged back into the Cold War freezer following the March sinking of a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors, which an international investigation last week said was caused by a North Korean torpedo in one of the deadliest incidents since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

“I can assure you North Korea will never use that option (full scale war), simply out of national interest,” the South Korean official, who asked not to be named, told foreign reporters.

He said Pyongyang knows major conflict, including the use of nuclear and chemical weapons, would result in the forced reunification of the peninsula.

Analysts say the million-strong but poorly equipped North Korean military is no match for the South and its U.S. ally, which keeps 28,000 troops on the peninsula.

Asked about possible civilian attacks, the official said: “That’s the part over which we have the most concern.”

The South Korean government is already stepping up security ahead of the G20 summit which Seoul hosts in November.

There have been some concerns that the North might use South Korean workers in a joint industrial park just inside its border as hostages.

“In that case we would use the military,” said the official.

But he doubted the North would do anything to damage the Kaesong industrial estate for fear of triggering social unrest. Tens of thousands of families in the area rely on it for their income, in a country which uses handouts to feed its population.

“North Korea is very afraid of shutting down Kaesong,” he said. Most of the salaries for the workers go straight to Pyongyang, making Kaesong an important source of legitimate income for the North Korean leadership.

Both Koreas have said they would fight if the other attacks but have scrupulously avoided giving the impression they would be the first to attack.

However, some analysts warn that the more the hermit North feels pushed into a corner, the more dangerous it will become.

It was that reason that the South has not directly accused North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the official said.

The mounting tension comes at a difficult time for the North.

Kim Jong-il’s health appears to be waning after a suspected stroke nearly two years ago and he is trying to ensure the succession of his youngest son to the leadership of the family dynasty that has run the impoverished state since its founding after World War Two.

Kim has also set 2012 as the year to reverse his country’s steady economic decline and turn the destitute state into a prosperous nation — something it has no chance of doing without massive outside aid.

“If you read carefully, North Korea is afraid … and we are careful not to hurt their (the military’s) pride,” said the South Korean official.

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(Editing by Michael Perry)

South Korea says no chance North will go to war