China urges halt to US-S.Korea military drills

Frederick Owens
August 22, 2017

The messages in Rodong Sinmun, the official government newspaper, come a day before the U.S. starts the Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercises with South Korea on Monday. He says the drills are held regularly because of repeated provocations by North Korea.

The exercise, which was first carried on in 1976, is the world's largest computerised command and control implementation, involving 50,000 South Korean troops alongside 17,500 U.S. troops in 2017.

The drills will feature soldiers at computers practicing how they engage in battles and developing their decision-making capabilities.

Kim Jong-un has said, however, that conducting the annual war game in South Korea would be "pouring gasoline on the fire" of the already heightened tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.

US and South Korean troops kicked off their annual drills Monday that come after President Donald Trump and North Korea exchanged warlike rhetoric in the wake of the North's two intercontinental ballistic missile tests last month.

The annual drills are viewed by Pyongyang as a highly provocative rehearsal for invasion, and it always meets them with threats of strong military counteraction.

"It's to prepare if something big were to occur and we needed to protect ROK", said Michelle Thomas, a U.S. military spokeswoman, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.

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China's willingness to get tough with North Korea changes the dynamics of the standoff, and makes future negotiations more consequential than past attempts.

The United States also describes them as "defensive in nature", a term North Korean state media has dismissed as a "deceptive mask". The latest sanctions were imposed after North Korea tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July.

"China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten U.S. soil first and the United States retaliates, China will stay neutral", it added.

Around 17,500 USA troops will participate in the drills - a cutback from past year.

Monday also marked the first time the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs took aim at some of Washington's allies, going as far as to single out Australia, saying, "Not long after the Australian prime minister had stated that they would join in the aggressive moves of the U.S., even referring to ANZUS which exists in name only, the Australian military announced that they would dispatch their troops to the aggressive nuclear exercises of the United States".

Last month North Korea test-launched two ICBMs at highly lofted angles, and outside experts say those missiles can reach some US parts like Alaska, Los Angeles or Chicago if fired at normal, flattened trajectories.

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