S.Korea, US joint military drill sends signal to North: experts

Global Times
Li Jiayao

South Korea and the US held military exercises this week amid renewed inter-Korean dialogue ahead of the Winter Olympics, a move that Chinese experts said proved the US is the dominant power when it comes to resolving the ongoing nuclear crisis.

South Korean and the US troops pressed ahead with the four-day Warrior Strike drill this week, a defense official from South Korea was cited by Yonhap News Agency as saying on Thursday.

The drill involved the US Second Infantry Division, stationed in Korea, but was smaller than the allies' usual annual combined exercises Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, Yonhap reported.

The annual drill aims to bolster the allies' combat-readiness by rehearsing different scenarios including the removal of North Korea's weapons of mass destruction, the report said.

Da Zhigang, director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Friday "the joint military drill showed that the dominant power behind the Korean Peninsula issue is the US."

"Even if inter-Korean dialogue is going well, it's a flash in the pan unless it addresses the denuclearization issue."

The drill showed that the US as well as the pro-US South Korean politicians and military officers insist on pressuring North Korea, he said.

South Korea and the US agreed to postpone other drills until after the end of the Winter Games, to be held in Pyeongchang, 80 kilometers south of the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas, Yonhap reported.

North Korea warned if the US continues with its postponed military exercises after the Olympics it will not "sit idle," the North's foreign minister said in a letter to the UN, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Whenever joint military exercises took place "the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula were gravely threatened and the inter-Korean mistrust and confrontation reached the top, thus creating great difficulties and obstacles ahead of hard-won dialogues," said the letter from North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho.

Zhang Huizhi, a professor at Northeast Asian Studies College of Jilin University, told the Global Times on Friday that the US and South Korea timed the exercises to pressure North Korea's anticipated February 8 military parade, which itself takes place a day before the Games.

"North Korea may display its latest intercontinental ballistic missile during the military parade, which is why the US used the military drills to display its determination to press North Korea," Zhang said.

North Korea is planning to show off dozens of long-range missiles at the February 8 parade and the "hundreds" of missiles and rockets would be an attempt "to scare the hell out of the Americans," CNN reported on January 31, citing two diplomatic sources with deep knowledge of North Korea's intentions.

North Korea may feel provoked by the US-South Korea military exercises, Zhang said, but it probably will not alter its plans to participate in the Games.

"North Korea wants to participate in the Winter Games as a nation possessing nuclear weapons and gain an opportunity for dialogue with the US," she said.

The North is sending a delegation to the Winter Games. The Moon Jae-in administration is eager to prevent tensions from escalating before and during the first Olympics to open in the country in three decades, Yonhap reported.

Yonhap also cited multiple sources as saying that this year's Foal Eagle training is provisionally scheduled to kick off on April 1 in the wake of the Paralympic Games slated for March 9 to 18.

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