China renews call for US and South Korea to suspend military drills

South Korean combat policemen take part in an anti-terrorism drill during the South Korean and US military forces joint Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercises at the Korea International Exhibition Center (KINTEX) in Goyang, South Korea, on Aug 21, 20
South Korean combat policemen take part in an anti-terrorism drill during the South Korean and US military forces joint Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercises at the Korea International Exhibition Center (KINTEX) in Goyang, South Korea, on Aug 21, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (AFP) - China on Monday (Aug 21) renewed its call for the United States and South Korea to suspend joint military drills as the two nations began annual war games that have infuriated nuclear-armed Pyongyang.

"The current situation on the Korean peninsula is highly sensitive and fragile, which requires the directly concerned parties including South Korea and US to make joint efforts to ease the tensions," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

Beijing has pleaded for a resumption of long-dormant six-nation talks to peacefully resolve the nuclear crisis.

But its proposal for North Korea to suspend its arms programmes in return for the United States to halt military drills in the region has been ignored.

"We don't think the joint exercise will be conducive to easing the current tensions. And we urge relevant parties to (seriously consider) the suspension-for-suspension proposal," Hua told a regular press briefing.

Tens of thousands of South Korean and US troops are taking part in the "Ulchi Freedom Guardian" joint military drills, a largely computer-simulated exercise that runs for two weeks in the South.

Around 17,500 US troops will participate in the drills - a cutback from last year.

When asked to comment on the troop cutback, Hua only said that China has "noted the reduction of the US forces", but reiterated that military exercises would not help to reduce tensions.

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.

South Korean President Moon Jae In said on Monday (Aug 21) the joint military exercises with US forces are purely of a defensive nature and do not aim to raise tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The "Ulchi Freedom Guardian" exercise focuses on a "tailored joint deterrence strategy" based on the Operational Plan 5015 of the Combined Forces Command, officials said.

Unlike the "Foal Eagle" field training exercises conducted earlier this year, the UFG exercises involve mostly computer simulations.

In an unusual gesture, three top US military commanders - Pacific Command chief Admiral Harry Harris, Strategic Command head General John Hyten and Missile Defense Agency director Lt-Gen. Samuel Greaves - will observe the command-post exercise in person, reported South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

North Korea on Sunday blasted the annual military exercise as an act of "adding fuel to the fire", reported Yonhap.

Only weeks ago it said it was considering firing a salvo of missiles towards the US Pacific territory of Guam.

Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) last month that appeared to bring much of the US within range.

That sparked a grim warning by President Donald Trump that Washington could rain "fire and fury" on the North.

Leader Kim Jong Un last week delayed the Guam strike plan, but warned it could go ahead depending on Washington's next move.