TOKYO: Japan and the United States launched a joint naval drill on Thursday in a show of force aimed at North Korea, whose nuclear ambitions dominated US President Donald Trump’s recent Asia trip.
The 10-day exercise, joined by some 14,000 US servicemen, aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided-missile destroyers USS Stethem, USS Chafee and USS Mustin, among others, “will take place in waters surrounding Okinawa” in southern Japan, the US navy said in a statement.
North Korea, which has stoked regional tensions with nuclear and missile tests in recent months, has repeatedly denounced such military drills as rehearsals for invasion and sometimes conducts its own military maneuvers in response.
The annual drill “is designed to increase the defensive readiness and interoperability of Japanese and American forces through training in air and sea operations,” the US navy said.
It comes after three US aircraft carriers, including the USS Ronald Reagan, held rare joint drills in the western Pacific, joined separately by Japanese navy and South Korean warships over the weekend.
Those drills were slammed by North Korea’s Ambassador Ja Song Nam, who said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres this week that the current situation was “the worst ever” around the Korean peninsula.
The first such deployment of three US carriers since 2007 “is making it impossible to predict when nuclear war breaks out due to the US nuclear war equipment” taking up a “strike posture,” wrote the ambassador.
North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test this year and test-fired a series of advanced missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.
On Wednesday, Trump vowed a global campaign of “maximum pressure” on North Korea, warning Pyongyang will not subject the world to “nuclear blackmail”.
Defending an almost two week trip to Asia that was long on pomp but—critics say— short on achievements, Trump said he had successfully galvanized opposition to North Korean proliferation.
As the drill kicked off, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met the commander of the US Pacific fleet, Harry Harris, and urged “close coordination” between Tokyo and Washington to “enhance deterrence” amid the North Korea threat.