Will US and South Korean military exercises increase tension in Asia? | Asia | An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW

Next Monday, the United States and South Korea will begin their largest joint military training exercises in four years, as Washington seeks to revitalize its strategic partnership with one of its closest Asian allies.

The U.S.-South Korean “Ulchi Freedom Shield” exercises will involve tens of thousands of troops in live-fire exercises combining land, sea and air forces.

Maneuvers should include simulations of joint attacks, reinforcement of front line units and simulations involving the securing of weapons of mass destruction.

The units will also train to use drones for surveillance and a number of new developments in the war that emerged in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an official with South Korea’s Ministry of Ministry said. Defense of journalists in Seoul.

“Recalibrate” the defensive posture

The drills mark a break with the policy of détente with North Korea pursued by the previous South Korean presidency of Moon Jae-in.

Regular drills between the US and South Korea were suspended under former US President Donald Trump, as Trump and Moon held talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and ended cooperation military as a sign of goodwill towards Pyongyang.

In 2019, Donald Trump met Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in in the DMZ

However, talks about signing a treaty to formally end the Korean War and pledging the North to abolish its nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees ultimately fell through.

Trump was reluctant to resume exercises, arguing they were expensive and unnecessary, as their resumption was further delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The stimulus has been planned for several months and has taken on added importance amid growing concerns that North Korea is planning a seventh underground nuclear test.

Tensions between the US and China remain high as Beijing continues to exert pressure on Taiwan following the visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this month. .

Russia also recently announced that it will host military units from China, Belarus, Mongolia, India and Tajikistan for the seven-day “Vostok” military exercises starting August 30.

Dan Pinkston, a professor of international relations at the Seoul campus of Troy University, said senior officers in Washington and Seoul had called for the resumption of exercises on the grounds that troop capabilities had been weakened by failing to not resulting in a crisis.

“This is a recalibration and resuscitation of critical drills to improve the shared defensive posture on the peninsula,” he told DW.

“It should also be pointed out that during the years in which the US-South Korean exercises were suspended, the North continued to carry out missile tests, worked on its nuclear program and exercised with its conventional forces, added Pinkston.

“But now we have different leaders in Washington and Seoul, it’s a correction of both the threats posed by North Korea and other uncertainties in an unstable world,” he added.

A triad of tension in East Asia

On Wednesday, North Korea signaled its displeasure with events in the South by launching two cruise missiles into the Sea of ​​Japan.

Wednesday also marked the 100th day since the inauguration of Yoon Suk-yeol, South Korea’s president, who has taken a tougher line with Pyongyang than his predecessor. However, this week Yoon offered development aid if the North would commit to scrapping its nuclear arsenal.

“Yoon is keeping promises he made during the election campaign to strengthen security relations with the United States in order to protect the nation from the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons,” said Yuji Hosaka, professor of history and politics at Sejong University in Seoul. , told DW.

More controversially, Yoon also committed South Korea to a closer security relationship with Japan, with Japanese naval units joining the United States and South Korea, for offshore missile research and tracking exercises. from Hawaii.

North Korean soldier looks through binoculars

South Korea and North Korea never signed a formal peace treaty even though an armistice was reached in 1953

And although the upcoming joint maneuvers in South Korea are designed to simulate a confrontation involving North Korea, Hosaka said their importance will not be lost on China less than three weeks after Pelosi’s visit to Taipei.

“Beijing will see these exercises as a message, I’m sure, and the United States clearly wants South Korea to commit to playing a role against China if the situation around Taiwan escalates,” he said. Hosaka. “But Seoul is hesitant to go that far,” he added.

China is by far South Korea’s largest and most important trading partner, and successive governments have had to distinguish between not upsetting Beijing and remaining militarily aligned with the United States.

In the past, China has imposed what were effectively powerful economic incentives on South Korea. This included banning concerts in China by K-pop stars and banning Chinese tourists from traveling to South Korea, though Beijing has repeatedly denied the measures were sanctions.

“Yoon wants to protect the nation’s peaceful trade with China and bring about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and he knows he needs the security provided by the United States, but he will not engage the South in a fight. with China,” Hosaka said. .

Edited by: Wesley Rahn

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