Carrier to avoid drill in Yellow Sea

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Carrier to avoid drill in Yellow Sea

The U.S.S. George Washington, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, will not take part in the second of a series of the combined military drills between South Korea and the United States following the Cheonan sinking, the UN Command said yesterday.

An initial plan to mobilize the 97,000-ton aircraft career in the drill, scheduled to be held in the Yellow Sea early next month, drew strong protest from China, leading some to worry about a physical confrontation between the world’s superpowers.

“The George Washington is not scheduled to participate in this ASW [anti-submarine warfare] exercise,” the UN Command said in a statement.

The UN Command added that the George Washington will be mobilized for future exercises and operate in the waters off the Korean Peninsula, but did not specify the Yellow Sea, suggesting it will be kept out of the waters near China.

The first combined drill following the Cheonan sinking, dubbed “Invincible Spirit,” and held between July 25-28, involved the George Washington, but only in the East Sea after a hostile Chinese response to a ASW drill in the Yellow Sea.

Asked why the plan to dispatch the George Washington to the Yellow Sea was changed, an official from the UN Command said, “Nothing had been decided about it, so it is not a change.”

The official stressed that the drill is defensive by nature and is designed to send a message of deterrence to North Korea.

Local analysts such as Lee Nae-young, an international relations professor at Korea University, said China's response obviously affected the decision.

Beijing reacted angrily to the planned Yellow Sea drill by Seoul and Washington, with the People's Liberation Army Daily warning of a physical response in an editorial last week.

“If someone harms me, I must harm them,” the editorial warned.

Many observers, however, said the U.S. decision not to send the George Washington was not a fear of China but a strategic choice.

“The U.S. has several issues in which it needs cooperation from China such as sanctioning Iran and pushing North Korea toward denuclearization,” said Jun Byoung-kon, a China expert at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

Said Lee Tai-hwan, a researcher at the Sejong Institute: “The U.S. appears to have judged that it is better to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding.”

By Moon Gwang-lip []
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