Japan to host joint missile drills with US, South Korea
Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera has announced that a joint drill with the United States and South Korea will be held this week amid an escalated stand-off in the region over North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests.
Onodera said Sunday during a visit to a garrison in northern Japan that the joint missile drills will be held on Monday and Tuesday in waters near Japan.
A defense official said the military exercises will be aimed at “practicing tracking an object and sharing information on it among the three countries”.
“It will translate into a measure against ballistic missiles,” said the Japanese official who declined to be named.
The drills come despite warnings by North Korea that joint military exercises in the region would escalate a current conflict over the country’s weapons program and prepare the ground for a full nuclear confrontation. Pyongyang has test-fired several ballistic missiles over the past months, including two in July that experts said showed the country’s capability to hit potential targets in the mainland US. North Korea also carried out its sixth and largest nuclear test in August, prompting the US to lead international efforts to further pressure the country through economic means.
North Korea has been specifically worried about repeated drills between US and South Korea, saying they are clear provocations. Washington denies Pyongyang’s allegations that the actions are meant to simulate an invasion of the North, saying they are normal, pre-planned procedures to test the readiness of thousands of US troops stationed in the Korean Peninsula.
The US State Department said the upcoming drills with Japan and South Korea and intensified US engagement in diplomatic efforts in the region were meant to persuade the North to refrain from further developing its weapons program.
“The United States looks forward to continuing its partnership with both these nations so that the DPRK will return to credible talks on denuclearization,” said the department in a Sunday statement, using North Korea’s official name.
Pyongyang rejected the claims about the drills, reiterating its view that they were a provocation. It said in a statement that the upcoming exercise between Japan, the US and South Korea revealed “its intention to mount a surprise nuclear pre-emptive strike against the DPRK”.