South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday vowed to build up the country's own defense capabilities as part of efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons, also saying his country will counter any North Korean provocation with "strong punishment."
"Our government's determination to protect peace requires strong defense capabilities. And we will stand up against reckless provocations with strong punishment," the president said in a ceremony marking the Korean Armed Forces Day, which falls on Sunday.
The ceremony was held at the headquarters of the Korean Navy 2nd Fleet in Pyeongtaek, located some 70 kilometers southwest of Seoul.
Moon urged stepped up efforts to enhance the country's own defense capabilities that include the preemptive strike platform Kill-Chain and a Korean air and missile defense system, as well as a massive punishment and retaliation platform.
"Without strong defense, we can neither protect nor make peace," he said at the ceremony attended by some 3,700 top military officials and service members, according to the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.
"Securing counter capabilities against North Korean nuclear and missile threats is the most urgent task. We must further strengthen our offense-based defense system Kill-Chain and Korean missile defense system," the president added.
The call for efforts to beef up the country's own defense capabilities follows North Korea's sixth and latest nuclear test on Sept. 3. The communist state has also staged 10 missile tests since the Moon Jae-in administration took office in May, with at least two of them involving intermediate or long-range ballistic missiles.
The South Korean leader also called for efforts to strengthen the joint defense capabilities of South Korean and U.S. forces.
"We can fundamentally prevent North Korea's nuclear provocations when the expanded deterrence of the Korea-U.S. alliance is effectively manifested," Moon said.
The U.S. currently maintains some 28,500 American troops in South Korea as part of its joint defense commitment to its Asian ally.
Still, Moon stressed the need for his country to regain the wartime operational control (OPCON) of its own armed forces at an early date.
"North Korea will fear us more and the people will have more faith in our military when we have wartime operational control of our military. The transfer of the wartime operational control based on our strong defense capabilities will lead to a great development of our military's structure and capabilities," the president said.
Seoul was originally scheduled to regain the wartime OPCON of its military from the U.S. at the end of 2015, but the transfer was delayed indefinitely under the former Park Geun-hye administration, which cited a need to further develop the country's own defense capabilities first.
Moon insisted the transfer of the wartime OPCON will help enhance the country's military.
"I believe our military has such capabilities. Together with the people, I have confidence in our military," he said. (Yonhap News)