BUSAN, South Korea — The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan arrived in the South Korean port of Busan on Friday ahead of the two countries’ joint military exercise which aims to show their strength in the face of growing threats from North Korea.
The joint exercises will be the first involving a US aircraft carrier in the region since 2017, when the United States sent three aircraft carriers, including the Reagan, for naval exercises with South Korea in response to nuclear tests and North Korean missiles.
The allies this year restarted large-scale military exercises that had been scaled back or suspended in previous years to support diplomacy with Pyongyang or because of COVID-19, responding to North Korea’s resumption of major weapons testing. and the growing threats of nuclear conflicts with Seoul and Washington.
The South Korean navy said its combined training with the Reagan battle group was aimed at boosting allies’ military readiness and showing “the strong resolve of the Korea-US alliance for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.” “.
The North Korean threat is also expected to be on the agenda when US Vice President Kamala Harris visits South Korea next week after attending the state funeral in Tokyo of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Reagan’s arrival in South Korea comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told parliament in Pyongyang this month that he would never give up the nuclear weapons and missiles he needs to counter this which he perceives as American hostility.
North Korea has also passed a new law that enshrines its status as a nuclear power and authorizes the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons in a wide range of scenarios where the country or its leaders are threatened.
Sung Kim, the Biden administration’s special representative for North Korea, met with his South Korean counterpart Kim Gunn in Seoul on Thursday, where they expressed “serious concern” over the escalation of the North’s stated nuclear doctrine. in the new law, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said.
The diplomats reaffirmed the US commitment to defend South Korea in the event of nuclear war with the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear ones. The allies also stood by their months-old assessment that North Korea is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017 and discussed “tough” countermeasures to such action, the ministry said.
North Korea ramped up weapons testing at a record pace in 2022, launching more than 30 ballistic weapons, including its intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017, as it operates a sharpened division in the UN Security Council by Russia’s war against Ukraine.
While North Korea’s ICBMs are attracting much attention from the United States because they pose a potential threat to the American homeland, the North has also expanded its arsenal of nuclear-capable, short-range missiles designed to evade missile defenses in South Korea.
North Korea’s growing arsenal and threats of pre-emptive nuclear attacks have raised concerns in South Korea about the credibility of the US “nuclear umbrella” protecting its allies in the event of war.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, a conservative who took office in May, has pledged to boost South Korea’s conventional missile capabilities and work with the Biden administration to develop more effective strategies to deter North Korean attacks.
Senior US and South Korean officials met in Washington this month to discuss allies’ deterrence strategies and issued a statement reaffirming that “any (North Korean) nuclear attack would meet with an overwhelming and decisive response.” The statement said the United States reiterated “its unwavering and unwavering commitment to leveraging the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear (a)” to provide extensive deterrence to South Korea.
North Korea has so far rejected calls from the United States and South Korea to return to nuclear diplomacy, which have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over trading release from directed sanctions. by the United States against the North and the North’s disarmament measures.
North Korea has harshly criticized Yoon for continuing military exercises with the United States and also for letting South Korean civilian activists fly anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other “dirty trash” across the country. balloon border, even dubiously claiming that the items caused its COVID-19 outbreak.
South Korean activists have continued to launch balloons after North Korea warned last month of “deadly” retaliation, raising concerns. North Korea could respond with a weapons test or even border skirmishes.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, pleaded for the activists to stop, citing security concerns. Lee Hyo-jung, spokesman for the ministry, also said Friday that South Korea is ready to respond firmly to any North Korean retaliation for distributing leaflets.
Kim Tong-hyung reported from Seoul.