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US carrier partners with Asian ally

A nuclear-powered ship docked in South Korea in preparation for military exercises

The USS Ronald Reagan arrived in the South Korean port of Busan on Friday, ahead of the first joint military exercises between Washington and Seoul involving an aircraft carrier since 2017. Prior to its arrival, the nuclear-powered vessel passed the been in the South China Sea amid tensions with China over Taiwan.

Arrived with two other ships from its carrier battle group, the Ronald Reagan will welcome American and South Korean dignitaries to the dock in Busan, before leaving the port in the coming days for exercises.

Although the U.S. Navy made no mention of North Korea in a statement announcing the carrier’s visit, strike group commander Rear Admiral Michael Donnelly told reporters that the drills signaled that US and South Korean navies “are interoperable and integrated to meet any challenge or threat.”

The South Korean navy said the drills demonstrate “the firm resolve of the Korea-US alliance for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula”.

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US pledges ‘nuclear capabilities’ to Asian ally

The Ronald Reagan last visited Busan in 2017, when the United States sent three aircraft carriers for exercises with the South Koreans in response to North Korean missile tests. Subsequent exercises were postponed or reduced due to former President Donald Trump’s diplomatic outreach to North Korea from 2018 and the Covid-19 pandemic from 2020.

The latest exercises come as the United States believes Pyongyang is preparing to carry out its first nuclear test since 2017. The country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has stepped up artillery and missile tests in recent months, to which the United States responded by sending six F-35 stealth fighter jets to South Korea for a series of exercises in July. Pyongyang regards the American exercises as “provocation” and proof that it must strengthen its nuclear programme.

Before arriving in Busan, the USS Ronald Reagan spent four months in the Western Pacific and the South China Sea, patrolling near Taiwan as China launched large-scale military exercises last month following a a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei. The 1,000ft carrier then returned to its home port of Yokosuka, Japan, before heading to Busan.

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