Korea, US firm on naval exercise despite China’s protest
By Jung Sung-ki
The Ministry of National Defense (MND) made it clear Friday that it will hold a joint naval exercise with the U.S. Navy in the West Sea in a show of force to counter North Korea's attack on a Navy warship in March.
The planned joint maritime drill has drawn strong opposition from China, which kicked off six days of live-fire exercises off its eastern coast this week, in what state-controlled media said was a response to the U.S.-South Korean war games to be held in coming months.
Earlier this week, Col. Lee Boong-wu, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the exercise will be held after the U.N. Security Council takes action against North Korea, denying speculation that the allies were backtracking on the plan in the face of Chinese complaints.
"The date and method have yet to be decided but the ROK-U.S. joint military exercise will be carried out," Won Tae-jae, spokesman for the MND, told reporters.
"The joint exercise in the West Sea is being planned as North Korea carried out an illegal provocation with the sinking of the frigate Cheonan," he said. "This kind of exercise was held in the past, so it's nothing new. But this time we decided to delay the timing in consideration of comprehensive situations, including the UNSC matter."
U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Walter Sharp also pledged that the U.S. and South Korean navies will hold the exercise despite China's complaints.
In a security forum in Seoul, Sharp said every nation has its own right to hold a military exercise against hostile forces, and the U.S. and South Korean militaries hold such exercises every year.
On Friday, the UNSC was expected to adopt a presidential statement condemning the Cheonan attack without directly establishing its connection with North Korea.
A Seoul-led multinational investigation team concluded in May that the 1,200-ton patrol ship was sunk by a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine. However, China and Russia, veto-wielding permanent members of the five-member UNSC, have been reluctant to name North Korea as the culprit.
China warned the United States and South Korea Thursday against holding the war games near its waters, urging them not to worsen tensions with its ally North Korea.
"China has expressed its serious concerns with the relevant parties," said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang in Beijing. "We are firmly opposed to foreign military vessels engaging in activities that undermine China's security interests in the Yellow Sea or waters close to China."
The South Korea-U.S. maritime maneuvers were originally set for last month but were postponed until the UNSC wrapped up discussions on the ship sinking that claimed the lives of 46 South Korean sailors.