Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

SEOUL — A top ruling party official called on Monday for South Korea to develop its own nuclear deterrent to combat the growing nuclear and missile threat from North Korea.

Support for a nuclear-armed South Korea is a minority voice in the country, but one that grows louder after every nuclear test by the North.

US tactical nuclear weapons were withdrawn from South Korea in late 1991, although the country remains under the protection of the US nuclear umbrella.

China, North Korea’s main ally, meanwhile, has said the US and North Korea need to formally declare an end to more than half a century of hostility if the international community wants North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to stop developing nuclear weapons.

"North Korea and the US still have not made peace, they’ve been in an extended ceasefire," said Fu Ying, who chairs the foreign affairs committee of China’s National People’s Congress. "You need to think how to bring an end to the war and enter a more normal relationship."

The US and North Korea agreed to a United Nations (UN)-backed armistice in 1953 that ended three years of fighting in the Korean War. The military stalemate split the peninsula along the 38th parallel after the conflict left more than half a million troops from China, the US, North and South Korea dead.

Speaking on Saturday at the Munich Security Conference, Ms Fu said that while her country was displeased with the recent nuclear test by North Korea — formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — citizens were even more concerned by the US response.

"The Chinese public is also angry about the DPRK nuclear issue but they’re even more angry about THAAD (terminal high altitude area defence)," Ms Fu said, referring to the antiballistic missile system the US says it deployed to protect against North Korea. "It covers more territory in China than in North and South Korea together."

South wants its own umbrella

In the wake of North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January, Won Yoo-Cheol, floor leader of the South Korean ruling Saenuri Party, said it was time for the weapons to be redeployed or for South Korea to get its own.

"We cannot borrow an umbrella from a neighbour every time it rains. We need to have a raincoat and wear it ourselves," Mr Won was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency in a speech to the national assembly.

South Korea is one of 190 signatories to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty — a pact that North Korea walked out on in 2003.

There are few takers in Washington for the idea of a nuclear-armed South Korea, which would set back a longstanding, if repeatedly violated, principle of not allowing new nations into the nuclear club.

In an effort to reassure one of its key Asian allies, the US Air Force sent a nuclear-capable B-52 bomber on a sortie over South Korea shortly after the North’s nuclear test on January 6.

South Korea’s late military strongman Park Chung Hee — the father of current President Park Geun Hye — had flirted with nuclear weapons in the 1970s when then US president Jimmy Carter planned to remove US troops from the peninsula.

AFP and Bloomberg