South Korea, US start war games amid North Korea missile flurry

Protesters at a rally opposing the joint military exercises between South Korea and the US near the presidential Blue House in Seoul today. (AP pic)


SEOUL: South Korea and the US began two weeks of joint military drills today as North Korea ratchets up tensions on the peninsula ahead of the inauguration of a conservative president in Seoul.

The two allies will conduct war games based on computer simulations of a conflict breaking out on the peninsula, according to South Korea’s defence ministry. The exercises will run through April 28 but will not include field training.

“The drills will boost operation skills of forces in the Republic of Korea and the US, consolidating our joint defence capabilities further,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told Nikkei Asia.

On Saturday, North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan in what the isolated nation said was part of its nuclear missile programme. The missiles flew about 110km with a maximum altitude of 25km at a speed of under Mach 4, according to the South Korean military.

Last week, Washington dispatched the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier to the Sea of Japan in a clear warning to Kim Jong-un’s regime over provocations, such as the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bomb tests.

Experts say the dispatch of the carrier shows Washington’s commitment to Asia even as the war in Ukraine continues.

“The Biden administration sent an aircraft carrier to conduct drills near the Korean Peninsula to reassure Seoul and Tokyo and show that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will not distract the United States from security in the Indo-Pacific,” said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University, in a note on Sunday.

“South Korean and American forces are resuming combined defence exercises important for readiness and deterrence, but (actions) that Pyongyang falsely accuses as rehearsals for an attack.”

The drills come three weeks before the inauguration of incoming President Yoon Suk-yeol.

The president-elect has emphasised the strong alliance between Seoul and Washington, and said during his campaign that South Korea should consider a “pre-emptive strike” against the North should Pyongyang contemplate an attack on the South.

North Korea criticised the South for hosting the joint military drills, threatening its neighbour with “total destruction”.

“South Korea should know and act properly as its reckless actions against a nuclear-armed country will speed up its total destruction,” said North Korea through Echo of Unification, its propaganda media outlet.

Sung Kim, the US special representative for North Korea, arrived in Seoul on Monday to meet his South Korean counterpart Noh Kyu-duk and other senior officials to discuss the situation on the peninsula, including the international community’s response to North Korea’s recent ICBM launches.

“The special representative’s visit to Seoul underscores the US and Republic of Korea commitment to ongoing close collaboration on DPRK issues as we seek to advance complete denuclearisation and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the US Department of State said in a statement on Friday.