The United States and its Japanese and South Korean junior partners have begun holding massive military drills off the Asian nations' coasts in a show of force meant to convey to North Korea the allies' military capabilities while also practicing the neutralization of alleged “threats” from Pyongyang.
The practices, which involve over 40 warships, three nuclear submarines, and a nuclear-powered carrier strike group deployed in a line stretching from the Yellow Sea west of the peninsula into the Sea of Japan, have drawn a swift rebuke from Russia.
“We decisively condemn North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests. At the same time, we oppose the excessive military activity of several countries of the region that provoke such tests,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers’ Meeting, noting that the moves simply inflame tensions with Pyongyang.
According to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, the drills are intended to practice the interoperability of the three countries' fleets and their ability to detect and track any alleged missile threats from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as North Korea is officially called.
The USS Ronald Reagan – a 100,000-ton, 333-meter nuclear-powered supercarrier – is among the strategic vessels taking part in the drills. The U.S. Navy's biggest warship in Asia, with a crew of 5,000 sailors, sailed around 160.93 km (100 miles), launching almost 90 F-18 Super Hornet sorties from its deck, in sight of South Korean islands.
The provocative drills also involved American Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Stethem, Japanese Kongo-class guided missile destroyer JDS Kirishima and a South Korean Sejong Great-class destroyer – all of which are equipped with the Aegis combat systems capable of long-range ballistic missile defense.
The exercises come ahead of President Donald Trump's first official visit to Asia, set to start in Japan on Nov. 5, with South Korea to follow.
North Korea has slammed the warship gathering as a "rehearsal for war." On Monday, North Korea´s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Kim In Ryong warned a U.N. General Assembly committee that the Korean peninsula is in the midst of an acutely tense situation especially in light of Trump's threats to annihilate the North.
In his comments to the ASEAN defense gathering, Shoigu once again raised the proposal that the U.S. and its junior partners suspend military drills in the region in exchange for North Korea ending its nuclear and missile programs. Throughout the year, both Russia and China have raised the so-called “double freeze” as a solution to spiraling tensions.
"We are confident that a roadmap based on the Russian and Chinese initiatives should become the foundation for the use of political and diplomatic mechanisms aimed at resolving the North Korea issue," Shoigu added.
While Washington has not ruled out the eventual possibility of direct talks with the North to resolve the stand-off, Pyongyang says it won't hold talks until the White House drops its hostile stance and threats of potential nuclear attack.
“Our nuclear weapons will never be a subject matter of negotiations as long as the United States’ policy of pressure on the DPRK has not been uprooted once and for all,” North Korea´s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho told TASS in an interview earlier this month.