South Korea, US begin annual military drills, riling the North


North Korea had threatened to fire a missile into the waters off Guam, a United States territory that holds two major U.S. military bases.

On Monday South Korean President Moon Jae-in warned Pyongyang not to use the exercise as pretext to attack Seoul and Washington, remarking that "The Ulchi exercise is a defensive drill conducted annually".

On Sunday it warned through state newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, that the joint exercise "is the most explicit expression of hostility against us, and no one can guarantee that the exercise won't evolve into".

The United States and South Korean began long-planned joint military exercises on Monday, heightening tensions with North Korea which called the drills a "reckless" step toward nuclear conflict.

And, the tensions were ratcheted up further when President Donald Trump made threats of fire and fury to North Korea.

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"Are we trying to publicise them and put some kind of military psychological pressure on (North Korea) or will we keep it low key and business like?"

But he added that he will make an "important" decision if the U.S. continues its "extremely risky reckless actions" on the Korean Peninsula, apparently referring to the UFG exercises.

The annual drills are viewed by Pyongyang as a highly provocative rehearsal for invasion, and it always meets them with threats of strong military counteraction.

China, North Korea's main ally and trading partner, has urged the United States and South Korea to scrap the exercises.

The U.S. and South Korea have begun annual anti-terror drills involving nearly 70,000 troops near the border with North Korea, antagonizing Kim Jong-un", who has threatened an "uncontrollable phase of nuclear war'. Beijing has banned most imports from North Korea to comply with United Nations sanctions.

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North Korea is a useful buffer state for China between it and USA forces based in South Korea, and also across the sea in Japan. On the question of talks with North Korea, the South Korean president said, "I don't think we must rush into it".

Tensions in East Asia remain high following months of missile testing in North Korea.

"It's to prepare if something big were to occur and we needed to protect ROK", a USA military spokeswoman, Michelle Thomas, said, referring to South Korea by the initials of its official name, the Republic of Korea.

China has long anxious that any conflict on the Korean peninsula, or a repeat of the 1950-53 Korean War, could unleash a wave of destabilising refugees into its northeast, and could end up with a reunified county allied with the US.

It has expressed frustration with both Pyongyang's repeated nuclear and missile tests and with behaviour from South Korea and the U.S. that it sees as escalating tensions. Russian Federation has also asked for the drills to stop but the United States has not backed down.

The Pentagon said the joint exercise would involve about 17,500 USA service members, as well as troops from Australia, Canada, Colombia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Britain. North Korea, for its part, threatened to launch missiles toward the American territory of Guam before Kim Jong Un said he would first watch how Washington acts before going ahead with the missile launch plan.

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"There's a lot we can do (through diplomacy) to bring the tension down without undermining the security of South Korea or USA", said Robert S. Ross, a Boston College political science professor.