DPRK denounces provocations as ROK civil groups oppose drills
The longest-ever joint military exercise kicked off by the United States and the Republic of Korea on March 13 is fueling fresh tensions on the Korean Peninsula, with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea signaling its response by testfiring two cruise missiles from a submarine the day before.
Simulating a Korean Peninsula emergency, the ROK-U.S. "Freedom Shield" springtime exercise will run for 11 days until March 23, Yonhap News Agency reported.
Without a weekend break, the joint military drill marks the allies' longest command post exercise and will be larger than those in previous years. The exercise will see the resumption of major field training for the first time in five years, after it was suspended under the administration of former ROK president Moon Jae-in.
The ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff said the combined exercise is a defensive one based on a combined operational plan designed to defend the ROK from potential aggression by the DPRK.
The joint military exercise began despite protests from the DPRK, which said in February that the U.S. and the ROK will face "unprecedentedly persistent and strong counteractions" if they carry out the combined military exercise, what it called "preparations for an invasion".
The DPRK's firing of the two "strategic cruise missiles" from a submarine in waters off its east coast on March 12 was reported by the country's official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, on March 13.
"The drill confirmed the reliability of the weapon system and examined the underwater-to-surface offensive operations of submarine units that constitute one of other major forces of the DPRK nuclear deterrent," the KCNA said.
The KCNA also reported on Sunday that, at a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, the DPRK decided to take "important practical steps for making more effective, powerful and offensive use of the war deterrent of the country".
The KCNA said the move is to cope with the current situation in which the war provocations of the U.S. and the ROK are "reaching the red line".
The U.S. military is expected to send the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz aircraft carrier later this month for combined maritime drills with the ROK Navy in connection with the "Freedom Shield".
On March 10, ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol said his country will work with the U.S. to further strengthen extended deterrence by establishing a nuclear planning and execution regime between the two nations to counter the DPRK's nuclear and missile threats.
Civil groups in the ROK rallied on March 11 near the presidential office in Seoul to protest against the annual military drills with the U.S..
"The Korea-U.S. joint military exercise should be stopped immediately before it leads to a greater crisis. It is urgent to de-escalate military tensions and create dialogue conditions again," the organizer of Korea Peace Appeal said, according to Xinhua News Agency.
Lee Jin-ho, a participant in the rally, said the war games involving the U.S. nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers will increase military tensions on the peninsula and in neighboring countries, warning that the military alliance between the ROK, U.S. and Japan could instigate war and encourage friction in East Asia.
Calling for the suspension of the ROK-U.S. joint military exercise, Minjung Action, a nongovernmental organization, said on March 13 that what lies behind the drills is the hegemony strategy of the U.S. to instigate a war on the Korean Peninsula and form a military alliance among the ROK, the U.S. and Japan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on March 10 that it is hoped that all parties can face up to the crux of the Korean Peninsula issue, and jointly promote a political settlement.