As they increase their defense against the growing threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, the US and South Korea have started their largest combined military training in many years.
These drills could anger Pyongyang which has increased its weapon testing activity at a record pace this past year and threatened conflicts with Seoul, Washington during a long stalemate diplomatically.
The Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises in South Korea will continue until September 1st and will include exercises that involve aircraft, warships and tanks, as well as potentially tens to thousands of troops.
However, North Korea sees these exercises as preparations for an invasion.
Cho Joong-hoon is a spokesperson for South Korea’s Unification Ministry. This ministry handles inter-Korean affairs. He said that the South has not yet detected any unusual activity or signs from North Korea.
In recent years, the United States and South Korea have canceled some of their regular drills. Others were reduced to computer simulations to make room for diplomacy with North Korea. This was due to COVID-19 concerns.
After North Korea rejected South Korea’s offer of economic benefits and denuclearisation measures, the drills were carried out.
Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, described Mr Yoon’s proposal as foolish. She stressed that the North does not intend to trade away an arsenal her brother sees as his best guarantee of survival.
She severely criticized Mr Yoon’s military exercises with the US, as well as Seoul’s inability to stop South Korean civilian activists flying anti-Pyongyang propaganda flyers and other “dirty trash” across the border via balloon.
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She ridiculed US-South Korean capabilities to monitor the North’s missile activities, insisting that Seoul incorrectly identified the launch site of the North’s latest missile test. This was hours before Mr Yoon, at a news conference, urged Pyongyang back to diplomacy.
Ms Kim warned earlier this month of “deadly” retaliation against South Korea for a recent North Korean COVID-19 epidemic. Pyongyang claims that the outbreak was caused by leaflets or other objects thrown by activists from southern countries.
The threat raises concerns about a provocation that could include a nuclear or missile launch or border skirmishes. There is also the possibility that the North might try to increase tensions around the allied drills.