N. Korea may conduct nuclear test to divert internal attention from food crisis: Seoul ministry

North Korea may stage various provocations, including a nuclear test, to divert its public's attention from the country's ongoing food crisis, South Korea's defense ministry said Tuesday.

The ministry made the assessment in a policy report for a parliamentary audit amid growing tensions after North Korea revised its constitution late last month to stipulate the policy of strengthening its nuclear force.

"In order to pass on internal complaints of food woes and failures in economic policy to the outside world, there is a possibility of (the North) conducting various strategic and tactical provocations, including a seventh nuclear test," the ministry said in the report.

The isolated regime, which has faced chronic food shortages, last conducted a nuclear test in September 2017.

The ministry also assessed that the North is expected to make efforts to successfully launch a military spy satellite this month as planned.

North Korea announced plans for the launch after its attempts to put the satellite, named the Malligyong-1, in orbit in May and August ended in failures.

The ministry also said the North Korean military appears to be focusing on supporting farming efforts during the harvest period, noting that it has not staged a large-scale exercise near the border after its summertime drills.

In addition, the ministry vowed to bolster the country's defense capabilities against North Korean threats, with plans to complete exploratory development of the low-altitude missile defense system, designed to intercept North Korean artillery shells, by August next year.

The ministry outlined efforts to strengthen combined military drills with the United States, such as staging their regular springtime Freedom Shield exercise in March next year for 11 straight days.

The allies also plan to develop the regular Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise in the second half of the year so that it proceeds under a scenario of a North Korean nuclear attack, it added. (Yonhap)