Regime’s allies factored in drills

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Regime’s allies factored in drills

Seoul and Washington discussed last week countermeasures for the possibility that the Chinese or Russian militaries could deploy strategic assets to North Korea in the coming weeks, a defense official in Seoul told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday.

Officials from South Korea and Washington instituted the Operational Planning Team in preparation against additional armed provocations by North Korea, an official from the National Defense Ministry said.

“The team had a meeting last week to discuss the repeated provocations by the North,” he confirmed. “In the meeting, the two sides consulted operations plans for the joint military exercises scheduled to begin next month, including Key Resolve and Foal Eagle.

“The team also assessed that China and Russia may deploy strategic assets like fighter jets and vessels to the Korean Peninsula in March or April, or conduct joint exercises with North Korea,” he said. “They discussed countermeasures for those possibilities.”

Tensions in the region escalated rapidly after North Korea conducted a nuclear test in January and fired a long-range ballistic missile earlier this month. Since then, South Korea and the United States have intensified their show of force through a series of military drills.

Seoul and Washington also decided to deploy a controversial U.S.-led anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea, despite strong opposition from China and Russia. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system is equipped with a powerful radar that can cover more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), and both China and Russia have expressed concerns that the radar could be used as a possible method of surveillance against them.

It is rare for the Operational Planning Team to discuss a situation involving China or Russia. The Ministry of National Defense utilized the Operational Planning Team following military provocations from North Korea in August, though the team only focused on the North Korean military in its planning.

“Starting with the Key Resolve exercise on March 7, a series of joint military drills will take place,” said a military source who requested anonymity. “The United States plans to dispatch the largest number of strategic assets ever to Korea. And how far these assets will be made public will be based on the reactions of China and Russia.”

China and Russia have a history of protesting the U.S. deployment of strategic assets in South Korea. After North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, the United States sent its nuclear-powered air carrier USS George Washington for joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea, which China strongly protested.

“There is the possibility that an aircraft carrier from China or Russia may approach near our territorial waters or that a fighter jet may fly over,” the military official said. “We already have a plan for such a possibility.”

BY HYUN IL-HOON [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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