Seoul may hold drills near contested islands

SEOUL • South Korea may go ahead with maritime defence drills around a group of islands for which it has competing claims with Japan, Yonhap news agency has reported, citing unidentified military and government officials.

The drills could begin as early as this month for the eastern-most Dokdo islands - which Japan calls Takeshima - that lie between the two countries, Yonhap said.

The exercises involve the navy, the air force and the coast guard, and are usually carried out in June and December, it said.

South Korea and Japan are currently embroiled in a complicated trade dispute, which is turning into one of the worst crises in the history of the two nations' fraught bilateral ties since a 1965 treaty normalised relations.

Carrying out the drills risks adding to the tensions, which have been marked by protests, boycotts and economic warnings.

South Korea's government had initially put off the drills to prevent worsening ties with Japan.

But, as Tokyo is "continuing to exacerbate the situation", the drills can no longer be postponed, Yonhap said, citing an anonymous source.

South Korea and the United States will also start joint military drills today, Yonhap reported. Tensions have escalated in the Korean peninsula after North Korea tested its missiles twice in a week.

The two allies will stage drills with a computer-simulated command post exercise for about two weeks, and spend another 10 days verifying South Korea's ability to retake wartime operational control of its troops from the US, Yonhap said, citing an unidentified South Korean military source.

Last month, North Korea's state media KCNA warned that the joint military exercise could jeopardise new talks, saying US President Donald Trump pledged to suspend such exercises in his last meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The US and North Korea have yet to restart nuclear negotiations after the two leaders agreed to do so in a historic June 30 meeting at the Korean Demilitarised Zone.

Seoul and Washington will also step up surveillance of potential launches from Pyongyang during the joint drills, according to Yonhap, again citing unidentified military sources.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2019, with the headline 'Seoul may hold drills near contested islands'. Print Edition | Subscribe