Flags of South Korea and the United States flutter before a joint river-crossing drill in Yeoju, South Korea. File/AP
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry criticised the United States for expanding joint military exercises with South Korea that it claims are practice for a potential invasion, and it warned Tuesday of "more powerful follow-up measures” in response.
The statement from the ministry came as the US and South Korea conduct aerial drills involving more than 200 warplanes, including their advanced F-35 fighter jets, as they step up their defense posture in the face of North Korea’s increased weapons testing and growing nuclear threat.
North Korea has ramped up its weapons demonstrations to a record pace this year, launching more than 40 ballistic missiles, including developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles and an intermediate-range missile fired over Japan. The North has punctuated those tests with an escalatory nuclear doctrine that authorizes preemptive nuclear attacks in loosely defined crisis situations.
The US and South Korea have resumed large-scale military drills this year after downsizing or suspending them in past years as part of efforts to create diplomatic space with Pyongyang and because of the pandemic.
South Korean Army K2 tanks cross a floating bridge in Yeoju, South Korea. File/AP
The United States and South Korea’s "Vigilant Storm” air force drills, which are to continue through Friday, came after South Korea completed its annual 12-day "Hoguk” field exercises that officials say also involved an unspecified number of American troops.
North Korea’s latest statement came just days after the country fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, extending a barrage of launches since late September. Some of those launches have been described by the North as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and US targets.
North Korea has said its testing activities are meant as a warning amid the joint military drills. But some experts say Pyongyang has also used the drills as a chance to test new weapons systems, boost its nuclear capability and increase its leverage in future dealings with Washington and Seoul.
The latest launch came after the South Korean and US militaries began mainly computer-simulated joint exercises on Monday to test Seoul's ability to take operational control in wartime.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump are expected to hold a summit at the United Nations this month, Moon’s office said on Friday, amid hopes for a restart of talks aimed at dismantling
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One ballistic missile was launched about 10:17am local time from the vicinity of Sinpo, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said, where North Korea keeps submarines as well as equipment for test firing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
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