Japan, South Korea and the United States have conducted joint missile defense exercises aimed at countering North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal.
Last week, North Korea conducted one of its most provocative weapons demonstrations in years, flying a solid-fuel-powered intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time. It is considered a more mobile, less detectable weapon that can be aimed directly at the continental United States.
The South Korean navy said Monday’s three-way exercise, taking place in international waters off the country’s east coast, focused on mastering procedures for detecting, tracking and sharing information on incoming North Korean ballistic missiles. The one-day naval exercise involved Aegis destroyers from each country.
“The purpose of the exercise is to improve our response to ballistic missiles and strengthen our ability to conduct joint operations in the face of escalating nuclear and missile threats from North Korea,” South Korea’s navy spokesman Jang Do-young said in a news release. briefing.
South Korea and the United States also each launched bilateral exercises on Monday involving about 110 warplanes, including advanced F-35 fighter jets, until April 28.
The two sets of exercises could trigger a belligerent response from Pyongyang, which views U.S. military exercises with its Asian allies as invasion exercises. North Korea has used such exercises as an excuse to speed up its own weapons development, creating a cycle of tit-for-tat that has heightened tensions in recent months.
Later on Monday, North Korean Field Marshal Ri Pyong Chol, a close associate of leader Kim Jong Un, warned that the US should “immediately stop its political and military provocations”.
“If the U.S. insists on endangering the security environment on the Korean Peninsula in disregard of North Korea’s repeated warnings, [North Korea]the latter will take necessary actions to expose the former to a more obvious security crisis and insurmountable threats,” Li said in a statement carried by state media.
Ri made no mention of the drills that started on Monday, instead accusing the United States and South Korea of staging a series of massive joint military exercises that simulate a pre-emptive nuclear strike and all-out war against North Korea.
He also criticized the U.S. call for a U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss North Korea’s launch of a solid-fuel ICBM, saying North Korea was exercising its right to self-defense.
Security Council resolutions prohibit North Korea from engaging in any ballistic activity. But the committee has failed to impose new sanctions on North Korea despite a series of ballistic missile tests that began early last year. Both China and Russia are members with veto power and oppose the sanctions.
North Korea has conducted unprecedented weapons tests since early 2022 and has so far fired more than 100 missiles of various ranges into the sea as it seeks to build up a nuclear arsenal that could threaten its neighbors and the United States.
Kim Jong-un wants to pressure the United States to accept North Korea’s status as a legitimate nuclear power, experts say, and wants to negotiate sanctions relief from a position of strength.
South Korea and the United States held their largest field drills in years in March, along with sea and air drills involving aircraft carrier strike groups and nuclear-capable B-52 bombers, respectively.
The growing nuclear threat from North Korea has also prompted South Korea and Japan to step up security cooperation and repair relations strained by historical and trade disputes.
On Monday, South Korea and Japan held their first security meeting of top diplomats and defense officials after a five-year hiatus. Seoul and Tokyo discussed North Korea’s nuclear program and trilateral cooperation with the United States during the meeting, according to Seoul’s defense ministry.
In a statement, Japan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff emphasized the need to strengthen trilateral cooperation as “the security environment around Japan has become increasingly severe” due to Pyongyang’s missile activity.
North Korea failed to respond to South Korean inspection calls via a series of cross-border inter-Korean hotlines for the 11th day in a row on Monday, South Korean officials said, raising concerns about a potential incident. Communications on these channels are aimed at preventing accidental conflicts or arranging talks at the maritime borders of rival countries.
On Saturday, a South Korean naval vessel fired warning shots to repel a North Korean patrol vessel that briefly crossed the two countries’ disputed western sea border while chasing a Chinese fishing boat.
Such problems have been exacerbated by pandemic-related border restrictions that have disrupted trade with China, a key ally and economic lifeline.
Desperate for tangible economic gains, Kim Jong Un’s government is prioritizing construction and agricultural projects that are less dependent on foreign trade. Meanwhile, industrial production remains impacted by international sanctions and COVID-related border closures.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Monday that Kim Jong-un took part in a weekend event celebrating the completion of 10,000 new houses in an area of Pyongyang. The project is part of a wider plan to deliver 50,000 new homes to the capital under the five-year national development plan until 2025.
During Sunday’s event, Kim Jong Un described the housing project as a “long-standing plan” aimed at providing “more stable and civilized living conditions” for his people, KCNA said.
North Korea suffers from a severe shortage of quality housing, and its recession has deepened for decades. But living conditions are much better in Pyongyang, where Kim Jong-un has pushed a major development that has upgraded housing for the elite.