Japan's defence chief welcomes resumption of US-South Korea military drills on April 1

South Korean marines take part in a US-South Korea joint landing operation drill as a part of the two countries' annual military training called Foal Eagle, in Pohang, South Korea, on April 2, 2017.
South Korean marines take part in a US-South Korea joint landing operation drill as a part of the two countries' annual military training called Foal Eagle, in Pohang, South Korea, on April 2, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's defence chief welcomed on Friday (March 30) the planned resumption of US-South Korean joint military exercises, saying the annual drill set to start on Sunday would add pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

"It's our understanding that the exercises will be of a similar scale to past years. In order to make North Korea respond properly, they play an important role," Japan's Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera said at a regular news briefing.

The one-month Foal Eagle field exercise is scheduled to begin on Sunday (April 1), with the computer-simulated Key Resolve drill to be held for two weeks starting in mid-April. Around 24,000 US troops and 300,000 South Korean personnel will take part in the exercises, according to the Pentagon.

The resumption of the joint training comes after Seoul and Washington said in January they would delay the exercises because of the Winter Olympics held in South Korea in February.

But the main exercise will be shortened by a month as a diplomatic thaw with North Korea gathers pace.