South Korean and US forces began computer-simulated military exercises on Monday amid tensions over North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes and reports that Pyongyang has generated at least $270 million since February despite UN sanctions.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the joint drills, called Ulchi Freedom Guardian, were purely defensive and did not aim to raise tensions on the peninsula.
“There is no intent at all to heighten military tension on the Korean peninsula as these drills are held annually and are of a defensive nature,” Moon told Cabinet ministers.
“North Korea should not exaggerate our efforts to keep peace nor should they engage in provocations that would worsen the situation, using (the exercise) as an excuse,” he said.
The joint US-South Korean drills will continue to August 31 and involve computer simulations designed to prepare for war with a nuclear-capable North Korea.
The United States also describes them as “defensive in nature”, a term North Korean state media has dismissed as a “deceptive mask”.
“It’s to prepare if something big were to occur and we needed to protect ROK,” said Michelle Thomas, a US military spokeswoman, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.
North Korea views such exercises as preparations for invasion and has fired missiles and taken other actions to coincide with the military drills in the past.
North and South Korea are technically still at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.
North Korea’s rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the US mainland has fuelled a surge in regional tension and UN-led sanctions appear to have failed to bite deeply enough to change Pyongyang’s mind.