US, South Korea to begin military exercise from Monday

Ulchi Freedom Guardian

The annual Ulchi-Freedom Guardian military exercise between South Korea and the U.S.is now underway against the backdrop of heightened tensions with North Korea.

China, North Korea's main ally and trading partner, has urged the United States and South Korea to scrap the exercises.

State media reported that leader Kim Jong Un would assess the US' next move before giving launch orders. The U.S. has always maintained these are purely defensive and to keep the two militaries prepared in case of an unplanned event like a missile strike.

The drill is expected to last ten days, from August 21 to August 31, 2017.

"The Trump group's declaration of the reckless nuclear war exercises against the DPRK.is a reckless behavior driving the situation into the uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war", Rodong Sinmun said, using the acronym for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the nation's official name.

North Korea had recently threatened to launch four missiles targeting the United States territory of Guam but the plan was put on hold by the country's third-generation dictator Kim Jong-un.

The statement from the Pentagon said about 17,500 US service members will be participating.

China and Russian Federation back an idea known in shorthand as "freeze for freeze" - suggesting that the USA and South Korea should suspend its large scale annual exercises in exchange for Pyongyang halting its nuclear and missile tests.

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in said Monday that North Korea must not use the drills as a pretext to launch fresh provocation, saying the training is held regularly because of repeated provocations by North Korea.

This is despite the growing pressure to postpone or even modify the exercise in order to help lower the tensions with North Korea, especially as part of the joint Chinese-Russian dual suspension proposal, where the US suspends its military exercises and North Korea suspends its nuclear and missile testing at the same time. Mainly involving computer simulation, the exercise is created to prepare for a possible attack by North Korea.

"If the enemy provokes, (our military) will retaliate resolutely and strongly to make it regret bitterly", said General Jeong Kyeong-Doo, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in his inauguration speech.

Both the US and South Korea have said the war games were defensive in nature and crucial to maintaining a deterrent against North Korean aggression.

In response to the warning from North Korea, Turnbull hit back on Monday, saying: "North Korea has shown it has no regard for the welfare of its own population, no regard for the security and good relations with its neighbours and no regard for worldwide law".

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

North Korea is a useful buffer state for China between it and USA forces based in South Korea, and also across the sea in Japan.

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