defense chief nominee-hearing

SEOUL, March 8 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye's pick for the new defense chief was grilled at a confirmation hearing on Friday over his consulting job for an arms broker and other ethical lapses, but he denied lobbying allegations and vowed to strike back against North Korea if it provokes border clashes.

Kim Byung-kwan, a retired four-star general, has been under mounting public and media pressure to resign because of his well-paid job as a consultant for a local arms broker from 2010-2011. The arms broker was involved in a controversial project to import faulty German tank parts for the Korean Army.

Kim apologized for causing public concern over the issue, but defended his work, saying it was limited to consulting for a project to jointly build an engine manufacturing factory with a German firm, which fell through later.

"I was not involved in any kind of lobbying activities," Kim said. "I have explained all allegations and apologized over my past mistakes."

Asked whether he chose money over honor, Kim said he has committed himself to the country's national security throughout his life.

In an opening statement, Kim called attention to high tensions on the Korean Peninsula as North Korea stepped up its bellicose statements before the U.N. Security Council on Thursday approved its toughest sanction on the recalcitrant communist state in response to its recent nuclear test.

The North's military has also threatened to scrap the Armistice Agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War and denounced Seoul and Washington over annual military drills.

"I will establish a strong military and strengthen capability to guard against North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles," Kim said in an opening statement. "If the enemy (North) provokes, I will strongly and sternly retaliate so they will pay a high price for that."

Kim also vowed to maintain a firm joint posture with American troops and increase military cooperation with neighboring countries.

By law, the president can appoint ministers without the parliament's approval if the National Assembly fails to hold a hearing within 30 days after the president requests a hearing for a nominee.

The request for Kim was submitted on Feb. 15.

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