Korean and U.S. defense chiefs agree to expand exercises
Defense chiefs from South Korea and the United States agreed to expand a joint military exercise and to resume high-level dialogue on extended deterrence.
At the meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup on Friday in Washington, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin agreed to upgrade the U.S. commitment to South Korea's defense, according to a press release by Seoul's defense ministry.
"The two agreed to combine their countries' joint military exercise in the latter half of 2022 with the Ulchi civil contingency exercise and continue strengthening the allies' deterrence posture, which includes the ballistic missile defense system and U.S. strategic assets deployed on the Korean Peninsula," the Defense Ministry said.
The announcement of the expansion of military drills, which are set to begin in late August and run until early September, came a day after Pyongyang's state media carried a speech by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un blasting Washington for its planned joint exercise with Seoul.
"Holding large-scale joint exercises that seriously threaten our national security is literally thug-like behavior that pushes North Korea-U.S. relations to conflict and to a point of no return," Kim said according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
South Korean and U.S. defense officials have warned in recent months that the North has completed all necessary preparations for a nuclear test at its Punggye-ri nuclear testing site in mountainous North Hamgyong Province.
"The two agreed the security condition on the Korean Peninsula was very serious due to North Korea's continued provocations, and emphasized that the South Korea-U.S. alliance will only solidify in the face of North Korea's provocations," Seoul's defense ministry said in its press release.
The allies also agreed to resume high-level Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) talks to boost their combined deterrence, the ministry said.
The EDSCG involves consultations between U.S. and South Korean diplomatic and military representatives on strategic and policy issues regarding extended deterrence against North Korea, including how to better leverage the full breadth of the power of the two countries, including diplomacy, information, military and economic capabilities.
Besides the EDSCG and the military exercises, measures to bolster readiness to the security threat posed by North Korea include a combined missile detection and tracking exercise by the United States, South Korea, Japan, Canada and Australia – named Pacific Dragon – which will begin on Monday in Hawaii and last until Aug. 14.
South Korea plans to send eight surface vessels and two aircraft, including the 7,600-ton Aegis destroyer King Sejong the Great, to participate in the drill.
South Korea's Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Lee Jong-ho, is expected discuss further measures to boost the deterrence posture during his visit to the United States this week, according to the Navy on Sunday.
Lee is scheduled to visit the South Korean fleet currently participating in the U.S.-led Rim of Pacific exercise and be briefed on the exercise before delivering a speech at an Indo-Pacific security conference in Hawaii on Thursday.
Lee will then visit Washington on Friday and meet with U.S. Secretary of the Navy Carlos del Toro.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]