TOKYO • The United States, Japan and South Korea will hold two days of missile-tracking drills starting today, Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force said, as tensions rise in the region over North Korea's fast-developing nuclear weapons programmes.
The US and South Korea launched their biggest joint air exercise last week, which the North said made the outbreak of war "an established fact".
This week's exercises will be the sixth drills since 2016 which involve the sharing of information in tracking ballistic missiles among the three nations, the defence force said. It did not say whether the controversial Thaad system would be involved. The installation of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system in South Korea has angered China, which fears its powerful radar could look deep into China and threaten its own security.
The latest drill will be held in waters near Japan, Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said as he visited a garrison in northern Japan.
North Korea has fired missiles over Japan as it pursues nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, in defiance of United Nations sanctions and international condemnation. On Nov 29, it test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile which it said was its most advanced yet, capable of reaching the mainland US.
Yesterday, South Korea said it would impose new unilateral sanctions on 20 institutions and a dozen individuals in North Korea, barring any financial transactions between those sanctioned and any South Koreans. "This unilateral sanction will prevent illegal funds flowing to North Korea and contribute to reinforce international communities' sanctions against North Korea," its finance ministry statement said.
The move is largely symbolic as trade and financial exchanges between the two Koreas have been barred since May 2010, following the torpedoing of a South Korean warship, which the North denied.
Mr Onodera said the ministry plans to include 730 million yen (S$8.7 million) to help build a new missile interceptor system, the Aegis Ashore, in its next fiscal year budget request, public broadcaster NHK reported.
The US State Department's special representative for North Korea policy will travel to Japan and Thailand this week for talks on efforts to build pressure against Pyongyang after its latest ballistic missile test.
"The US looks forward to continuing its partnership with both these nations so that the DPRK will return to credible talks on denuclearisation," the department said in a statement, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
A senior UN envoy warned on Saturday of a grave risk that a miscalculation could trigger conflict with North Korea as he urged Pyongyang to keep communication channels open, after a rare visit to the reclusive state. Mr Jeffrey Feltman's trip to the North was the first by such a high-ranking United Nations diplomat since 2010.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE