Since unlike Donald Trump he does not have access to twitter, we can only assume that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is probably fuming this morning after US and Japanese fighter jets conducted joint “air maneuvers” southwest of the Korean peninsula, according to Reuters. The exercises threaten to reignite tensions between the US and the North after Kim Jong Un reportedly told his generals on Tuesday to shelve a plan to strike Guam with an ICBM.
The exercises were held a day after Kim said that he would put plans to attack the US island territory on hold, but that his generals would closely monitor the “Yankees” for any signs of hostility. The exercises involved two US Airforce B-1B Lancers, and two Japanese F-15 jet fighters, according to Reuters. The North, as its state-run news agency has stated repeatedly in the past, typically interprets military exercises as tantamount to an act of war.
“The exercise in the East China Sea involved two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers flying from Andersen Air Force Base on the Pacific island of Guam and two Japanese F-15 jet fighters, Japan's Air Self Defense Force said in a news release. ‘The exercise is meant to improve interoperability and bolster combat skills,’ it said. The U.S. planes, which were designed to carry nuclear bombs but were later upgraded to carry conventional weapons, have flown several sorties in East Asia over the past several weeks. In addition to air drills with Japanese fighters, the bombers have also exercised with South Korean aircraft.”
“Reclusive North Korea has made no secret of its plans to develop a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and of reaching the United States to counter what it perceives as constant U.S. threats of invasion - such as U.S. war drills with neighboring South Korea and Japan.”
Wednesday’s test runs were part of a 19-day long period of joint exercises between the US and Japan that began on Aug. 10, according to AFP. On a military installation in Northern Japan, some 300 Japanese and US military personnel carried out live-fire artillery training, according to Agence France-Presse. Japan also tested its Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile defense system. The system was tested in Shimane, Hiroshima and Kochi prefectures, which North Korea had warned could be along its missiles' flight path.
The air drill also upset China, which said "they do nothing to ease tension."
On Wednesday, a senior Chinese military officer reiterated China's position on the need to maintain peace and stability to the United States' top general, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, China's Defence Ministry said.
Song Puxuan, commander of China's Northern Theatre Command, stressed to Dunford that the North Korean nuclear issue must be resolved politically through talks, the ministry added, without saying where the two met.
More importantly, the overnight drill is a preview of what is coming: US and South Korean militaries will proceed with massive sea, land and air exercises next week despite a tenuous stalemate between the US and North Korea.
The annual joint exercises, named Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, have long been planned for 21-31 August, but now come at a time when both Washington and Pyongyang are on heightened alert, raising the spectre of a mishap or overreaction, according to the Guardian. Washington and Seoul say the exercises, involving tens of thousands of American and South Korean troops, are a deterrent against North Korean aggression.
In the past, the practices are believed to have included “decapitation strikes” – trial operations for an attempt to kill Kim Jong-un and his top generals, further antagonising a paranoid leadership.
Next week's massive joint drill is widely seen among Wall Street commentators as a potential catalyst for the next flare up in tensions and/or hostilities involving Kim's regime.