By Julian Ryall, Tokyo
North Korea has transferred one of its newest and most modern armoured units to the border with China, in the latest indication of the depth of the rift between the two erstwhile allies.
An estimated 80 tanks of the 12th Corps of the North Korean People’s Army have been reassigned to Ryanggang Province, the strategically important frontier region that shields North Korea’s east coast ports, including Wonsan.
South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that no tank units had previously been stationed in the province and that the 12th Corps has been reinforced with an armoured infantry unit, artillery sections equipped with multiple rocket launchers and brigades trained to carry out “special warfare”.
Formed in 2010, the unit has the specific task of repelling Chinese troops in the event of an incident in the border region. However, military analysts believe that the North Korean unit would stand little chance in the event of a full-scale attack by the technologically advanced Chinese forces.
Quoting South Korean sources, the paper also reported that a further 80 armoured personnel carriers were scheduled to be deployed to the province in the near future, apparently on the orders of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.
The reason for the transfer of front-line units away from the heavily fortified border with South Korea is the growing fear in Pyongyang that China, North Korea’s only significant ally, could be preparing to “betray” Mr Kim’s regime.
North Korea refuses to rule out the possibility of further nuclear weapons tests, has in recent weeks fired volleys of short-range missiles in coastal regions and continues its rhetoric against South Korea, the United States and Japan.
Beijing has attempted to convince North Korea that peaceful coexistence with its neighbors and the wider international community is in Pyongyang’s best interests, but that advice has been ignored.
China’s response has since become more forceful. After the most recent North Korean nuclear test, in February 2013, Beijing declined to veto a United Nations resolution and backed the other permanent members of the UN Security Council in imposing additional sanctions on the regime.
To underline its displeasure, Beijing has not permitted any deliveries of critically needed fuel oil into the North since the start of the year.
In May, Chinese military units carried out exercises close to the North Korean border, manoeuvres that analysts suggest were designed to send a message to Pyongyang.
In response, North Korea has stepped up the construction of concrete machine-gun emplacements on the Chinese border, while propaganda has begun to describe Beijing as the North’s traditional enemy.
Source : The Telegraph