South Korea, US suspend military drills for Games

Global Times
Zhang Tao

South Korea and the US announced a suspension of joint military drills until after the Paralympic Games in South Korea's Pyeongchang.

Chinese experts said this is another positive step to easing strained tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but they also warned all parties not to be too optimistic.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told a daily briefing on Friday that China welcomed the positive moves made by North Korea and South Korea to improve ties.

"We hope the international community could give support [to these moves], make joint efforts in finding an effective way to ease tensions, enhance mutual trust and restore dialogue," Geng said.

Chinese assistant foreign minister Kong Xuanyou said on Friday that he welcomed "positive" developments on the Korean Peninsula after the two Koreas agreed to hold talks next week to discuss the North's possible participation in the Winter Olympic Games.

"Currently, some positive things are unfolding with regard to the situation on the Korean Peninsula, though there are still complicated challenges," Kong said, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Friday.

Kong made the remarks at the start of a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon.

He arrived in Seoul earlier on Friday for a two-day visit, during which he is to meet South Korean officials for discussions on North Korea and issues of mutual concern.

Kong also said that he hoped Seoul and Beijing will strengthen strategic communication and advance mutual trust based on agreements their leaders reached during a December summit in Beijing.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday played down a delay in US-South Korean military exercises, saying they would resume after the conclusion of the March 9 to 18 Paralympic Games, Reuters reported.

Mattis said the decision to delay the drills until after the Olympic and Paralympic Games was due to logistical concerns, since many South Korean security forces would be occupied with the country's biggest sporting and tourist event of the year.

US President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in announced late on Thursday that annual large-scale military drills usually held in spring would now take place after the Winter Olympic Games scheduled for February in Pyeongchang.

The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises are drills conducted regularly to maintain readiness on the peninsula, according to a statement from US Forces Korea.

The South Korean and US militaries usually hold the exercises every spring, which can involve as many as 17,000 US troops and more than 300,000 South Korean counterparts.

Trump on Thursday also called potential talks between North and South Korea "a good thing" and took credit for any dialogue.

South Korea's unification ministry said North Korea had sent its consent in a statement for the talks to be held on January 9.

The last time the two Koreas engaged in official talks was in December 2015, Yonhap reported on Friday.

Chinese experts said that the recent positive signals sent by all parties could help ease the strained tensions on the Korean Peninsula but all parties should not be too optimistic since they will still face many challenges before denuclearization of the peninsula is achieved.

The Xinhua News Agency released a commentary on Friday, saying that it is "apparently a constructive gesture" for Seoul and Washington to agree to suspend military drills in line with the international call for stability and peace in the region.

"However, considering the unprecedented level of tensions there and the aggravated mutual rancor between Pyongyang and Washington, more reconciliatory efforts are needed to change the overall bleak mood in the region," the article said.

Japan's defense minister on Friday sounded a note of caution about the talks, saying North Korea would continue developing its weapons program and Tokyo would remain vigilant, Yonhap reported.


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