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Korea, U.S., Japan conduct missile defense drills

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Apache helicopters take off from the U.S. Army base Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek on Tuesday, the first day of preliminary drills for the combined South Korea-U.S. military exercises, which take place next week. [YONHAP]
Apache helicopters take off from the U.S. Army base Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek on Tuesday, the first day of preliminary drills for the combined South Korea-U.S. military exercises, which take place next week. [YONHAP]

South Korea, the United States, and Japan participated in a ballistic missile defense exercise off Hawaii’s coast last week, the Pentagon said Tuesday, as the United States and South Korea also began preliminary training for full joint exercises between the two countries’ militaries next week.  

The drills took place during the biennial Pacific Dragon exercise, which has taken place every two years and took place this year from Aug. 8 to 14. The South Korean Navy participated in the exercise in 2018 and 2020, but the Moon Jae-in administration did not disclose it at the time.

The three countries’ defense chiefs met on the sidelines of the Asia Security Summit, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore in June and agreed to regularize and conduct the drill publicly.

According to a Pentagon statement, the three countries shared tactical data link information in accordance with a trilateral information-sharing agreement and demonstrated their resolve for joint defense in the face of North Korea’s growing arsenal of ballistic missiles.

“This missile warning and ballistic missile search and tracking exercise demonstrated the commitment of the U.S., ROK, and Japan to furthering trilateral cooperation to respond to DPRK challenges, protecting shared security and prosperity, and bolstering the rules-based international order,” the Pentagon said, referring to South and North Korea by the acronyms for their official names, the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

U.S.-led joint missile defense measures have irked China, which retaliated with unofficial economic sanctions against South Korea after it deployed a U.S. military Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) battery in Seongju, North Gyeongsang in 2016.

In negotiations with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin last week, Beijing repeated its argument that no more Thaad batteries should be deployed to South Korean territory based on what it claimed was a “Three No’s and One Restriction” policy of the Moon Jae-in administration.

The “three no’s” refers to Moon’s pledge not to increase Thaad deployments, participate in a U.S.-led global missile shield or create a trilateral military alliance involving Japan.  

The “one restriction” — newly added by Beijing in its statement on last week’s talks — refers to restricting the use of the Thaad system already deployed in Korea, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Seoul’s foreign ministry has balked, saying in an Aug. 10 statement that Thaad is “a means of self-defense to protect the lives and safety of our people from the North Korean nuclear and missile threats and that it’s not a matter for discussion [with another country].”

Meanwhile, South Korea and the U.S. on Tuesday began preliminary exercises for the Ulchi Freedom Shield joint exercises, which are scheduled from Aug. 22 to Sept. 1.

According to defense officials, the preliminary training will take place over four days ending Friday.

Seoul’s defense ministry confirmed on Tuesday that its troops would once again conduct live field training during their joint military drills with the United States.

The two allies scaled back combined military exercises in recent years due to Covid-19 and the desire of the Moon administration to lower tensions with the North, which has long described the joint exercises as a rehearsal for an invasion.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]

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