In 2013, North Korea said it would retaliate against any hostile
moves by striking at the United States, Japan and South Korea,
triggering a military buildup on the Korean peninsula and months of
The reclusive North has regularly denounced annual drills such as
"Key Resolve" and "Ulchi-Freedom-Guardian" staged by South Korea and
United States as a prelude to invasion.
"We sternly warn the U.S. and the South Korean authorities to stop
the dangerous military exercises which may push the situation on the
peninsula and the north-south ties to a catastrophe," the North's
KCNA state news quoted a body in charge of efforts to promote Korean
unification as saying.
Similar bellicose rhetoric from the North set South Korea, the
United States and Japan on edge a year ago. As a result, Washington
flew Stealth bomber missions over South Korea and strengthened its
military presence in the South, where nearly 30,000 U.S. troops are
South Korea said the drills were going ahead as planned and despite
the threat, North Korea's military has showed no sign of unusual
"If North Korea actually commits military aggression at the excuse
of what is a normal exercise we conduct as preparation for
emergency, our military will mercilessly and decisively punish
them," Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.
North and South Korea remain technically at war after their 1950-53
civil conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty.
China, North Korea's only remaining real ally and which has been
alarmed by what it sees as provocations by both sides, called for
"All sides have a responsibility to maintain peace and stability on
the Korean peninsula and this accords with all sides' interests,"
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing.
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"The overall situation on the Korean peninsula at present is quite
fragile. We hope all sides can exercise restraint and not take steps
to rile each other."
Analysts say the North cannot risk igniting a conventional military
conflict it would almost certainly lose.
Many North Korea watchers believe the isolated country could instead
launch another long-range rocket or push ahead with a nuclear test.
It has conducted three nuclear tests, the last one in February last
The North could also stage another artillery attack on South Korean
territory as it did in 2010, and risk provoking a military response
from Seoul that could trigger a wider conflict.
The North's rocket launches are banned under United Nations
resolutions because they are viewed as part of a process of proving
the technology for an intercontinental nuclear weapon. Its nuclear
program has also been sanctioned.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who took power two years ago, has
pursued his father's military policies, including those aimed at
obtaining nuclear strike capacity.
(Reporting by David Chance; additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in
Beijing; editing by Nick Macfie)
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