Moon Warns North Korea Against Provocation During DrillsBy and
Annual U.S.-South Korea military exercises began Monday
Fewer U.S. service members are participating than last year
South Korean President Moon Jae-in warned North Korea not to use his nation’s latest round of annual military drills with the U.S. as an excuse for any further provocations.
The drills “are not aimed at raising military tensions on the Korean peninsula at all,” Moon said in a Cabinet meeting on Monday. “North Korea should never distort our efforts to maintain peace and use them to justify any provocative action to worsen the situation.”
The Ulchi-Freedom Guardian military exercises routinely spark condemnation from North Korea. During last year’s drills, North Korea launched a ballistic missile from a submarine and put its military on the highest alert. The state-run Korean Central News Agency has called them “reckless saber-rattling” and warned that they could spark an accidental war.
“This is aimed to ignite a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula at any cost,” KCNA said on Monday. “The situation on the Korean peninsula has plunged into a critical phase due to the reckless north-targeted war racket of the war maniacs.”
Tensions on the peninsula appear to have calmed down since late July when Pyongyang fired its second intercontinental ballistic missile within a month. U.S. President Donald Trump praised North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for waiting to fire missiles over Japan into waters near Guam. He has previously said military force is an option to prevent Kim from gaining an intercontinental ballistic missile that could deliver a nuclear weapon to the U.S.
China on Monday reiterated its call for the U.S. to halt the drills as part of its “suspension-for-suspension” proposal that would also require Kim to freeze nuclear and missile tests. The U.S. has rejected this outright.
"We don’t think the joint exercises will be conducive to reducing the current tensions and we urge the relevant parties to take the ‘suspension for suspension’ proposal seriously," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing. "We hope various parties can truly do something that will be helpful in reducing tensions instead of adding fuel to the fire."
The exercise is a computerized command-and-control simulation, said a spokeswoman for U.S. Forces in Korea. It will be of similar size to last year’s event with no field training, she said.
About 17,500 U.S. service members are taking part, down from 25,000 last year. Defense Secretary James Mattis said the reduction in numbers simply reflects a need for fewer personnel, and hasn’t been scaled back in response to tensions with North Korea.
China’s Hua acknowledged the lower troop numbers, but added that the exercises do not help situation.
The joint military drill “is aimed at checking civilian and military readiness to protect lives and safety of our people,” Moon said. “North Korea should recognize that its continued provocations are leading to a repeated vicious cycle of South Korea-U.S. joint defensive drills.”
— With assistance by Peter Martin