SEOUL • The US, South Korea and Japan carried out a joint exercise to track missiles from North Korea, as China warned that such manoeuvres fuel tensions following nuclear-armed Pyongyang's longest-range test launch to date.
Yesterday's trilateral drill came less than two weeks after Pyongyang test-fired a new intercontinental ballistic missile and declared it had achieved nuclear statehood, escalating global alarm over its weapons push.
The two-day exercise - the sixth since June last year - kicked off in waters near the Korean peninsula and Japan, Seoul's Defence Ministry said.
"During the drill, Aegis warships from each country will simulate detecting and tracking down potential ballistic missiles from the North and sharing information," it said in a statement.
Two United States ships are taking part, with one each from the two Asian countries.
Both South Korea and Japan have security alliances with the US. Pyongyang regularly condemns joint exercises by the US and its neighbours as preparations for war.
Washington and Seoul staged their biggest-ever joint air drill last week in a show of force against the North, which is subject to multiple sets of United Nations sanctions over its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes.
The coalition has urged others to take a tougher stance against Pyongyang but has so far found lukewarm reactions from the North's main backers Beijing and Moscow.
China criticised the latest drills, which come as President Xi Jinping prepares to play host to his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae In this week at a summit aimed at soothing ties strained by the US deployment of an anti-missile system in the South.
"The situation is in a vicious circle of provocation and confrontation. This is not conducive to regional peace and stability," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular news briefing.
"If such a vicious circle continues and leads to a very bad result, it serves no party's interest," Mr Lu said, echoing recent remarks by Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Russia's top general Valery Gerasimov met Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera in Tokyo and reiterated that Moscow wanted to resolve the crisis via diplomacy.
Exercises around North Korea "destabilise the situation", General Gerasimov said, according to a Japanese Defence Ministry official.
Mr Onodera, however, stressed Japan's position: "North Korea's nuclear and missile development are significant threats against the international community. I want us to cooperate over this problem."
China and Russia have called for a halt to such US-led drills in return for North Korea suspending its nuclear programme.