US, ROK to hold drills despite Pyongyang ire

Seoul and Washington kicked off their annual joint military exercises on Monday, despite warnings from Pyongyang that the drills could derail fragile nuclear diplomacy.

Choi Hyun-soo, spokeswoman for Seoul’s Defense Ministry, said the joint drills code-named “Dong Maeng” began on Monday with a computer-simulated command post exercise to “cope with any emergency on the Korean Peninsula” and will last for half a month.

After the command post exercise, the two allies will spend the remaining 10 days intensively verifying Seoul’s capabilities if it had to take wartime operational control of its troops from Washington, The Associated Press reported.

The joint military drills will proceed despite the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s denunciation. Observers said the drills may prompt further provocation from Pyongyang.

After test-firing two short-range projectiles on July 25, Pyongyang sent warnings against the planned ROK-US drills and Seoul’s adoption of the US-made stealth fighter jets. Since then, the DPRK fired off four more short-range projectiles in just over a week.

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DPRK’s state news agency KCNA said earlier that it will “wait and see if the exercises actually take place to decide on the fate of its diplomacy with the United States”, and also whether to continue its suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests.

Liu Tiancong, a research associate at the Northeast Asian research institute of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said the missile tests are intended to counter the joint military drills between ROK and the US as Pyongyang has long been dissatisfied with the exercises.

“In its statement, Pyongyang believes that the ROK has done little to develop inter-Korean relations and continued to strengthen the military alliance between Seoul and Washington, touching a raw nerve of Pyongyang,” Liu said.

The ROK and the US have scrapped or scaled down three large-scale joint military drills following the inter-Korean summit at the border village of Panmunjom in April 2018 and the DPRK-US summit in Singapore in June that year, ROK’s Yonhap News Agency reported. The allies launched the new Dong Maeng exercise in March as a replacement for their large-scale springtime Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises, the report added.

But Pyongyang has denounced the new exercise as a violation of what was agreed on during the summits. On July 26, the DPRK said the two short-range ballistic missiles it fired the previous day were a “solemn warning” against the planned military exercises, KCNA said.

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