SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea's acting leader, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, sought to bolster the armed forces in a New Year's message aimed as much at potential North Korean provocation as the morale of southern troops.
Hwang, who is leading the country while a court decides on whether to accept the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye and remove her from office, knows that North Korea may be his biggest challenge. Last year Pyongyang staged a string of missile test-launches and two nuclear tests, and, with instability in Seoul and a new president set to take over this month in Washington, many expect more trouble from North Korea.
"Our people have firm faith in our troops as they maintain stern military readiness with strong willpower," Hwang said in a recorded message for the troops.
Hwang said Seoul will spend whatever it takes to support the armed forces.
South Korea's opposition-controlled parliament last month voted to remove Park over a corruption scandal. State prosecutors have accused her of colluding with a longtime confidante to extort money and favors from companies and allowing her friend to interfere with government affairs.
Park's powers will remain suspended until the Constitutional Court decides whether she should permanently step down or be reinstated. The trial could take up to six months, and if the court formally removes Park from office, a presidential election will be held within 60 days.
Hwang, who had a largely ceremonial job before Park's impeachment, has been running affairs as opposition politicians pledge to erase some of Park's signature policies.
Hwang has vowed to maintain unpopular agreements with Japan over the sharing of military intelligence and the compensation for South Korean women forced into sexual slavery by Japan's World War II military.
He has also dismissed calls by the opposition to reconsider a decision to deploy an advanced U.S. missile defense system to cope with North Korean threats.
The plans to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, has angered not only North Korea but also China, which suspects that the system would allow U.S. radar to better track its missiles.