U.S.-Japan conduct air drills as North
Korea watches next move by 'Yankees'
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[August 16, 2017]
By Tim Kelly
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese jets conducted
air manoeuvres with U.S. bombers southwest of the Korean peninsula on
Wednesday as North Korea considered whether to fire missiles towards the
U.S.-administered territory of Guam.
Reclusive North Korea has made no secret of its plan to develop a
missile capable of firing a nuclear warhead at the United States to
counter what it perceives as constant U.S. threats of invasion.
It has ignored warnings from the West and from its lone major ally,
China, to halt its nuclear and missile tests which it conducts in
defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The exercise in the East China Sea involved two U.S. Air Force B-1B
Lancer bombers flying from Andersen Air Force Base on the Pacific island
of Guam and two Japanese F-15 jet fighters, Japan's Air Self Defence
Force said in a news release.
"These training flights with Japan demonstrate the solidarity and
resolve we share with our allies to preserve peace and security in the
Indo-Asia-Pacific," the U.S. Air Force said in an announcement.
The U.S. aircraft, which were designed to carry nuclear bombs and later
switched to conventional payloads, have flown several sorties in East
Asia over recent weeks. In addition to air drills with Japanese
fighters, the bombers have also exercised with South Korean aircraft.
North Korea regards the U.S. exercises with South Korea and Japan as
preparations to invade it.
The exercises also upset China, which says they do nothing to ease
On Wednesday, a senior Chinese military officer reiterated China's
position on the need to maintain peace and stability to the United
States' top general, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph
Dunford, China's Defence Ministry said.
Song Puxuan, commander of China's Northern Theatre Command, stressed to
Dunford that the North Korean nuclear issue must be resolved politically
through talks, the ministry added, without saying where the two met.
The command is based in China's northeastern city of Shenyang and has
responsibility for a swath of northern China, including the border with
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has delayed a decision on firing
missiles towards Guam and U.S. officials have since taken a gentler
tone, but tension in the region nonetheless remains high.
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A Japan Ground Self Defense Force's Type 90 tank fires during their
joint exercise, named Northern Viper 17, with U.S. Marine Corps at
Hokudaien exercise area in Eniwa, on the northern island of
Hokkaido, Japan, August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
The North Korean threats had prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to say
the U.S. military was "locked and loaded" if North Korea acted unwisely.
Those words in turn prompted a warning from China for both sides to tone
down the rhetoric.
North Korea has often threatened to attack the United States and its
bases in the region and it is likely to be infuriated by the current
manoeuvres and annual U.S.-Japanese drills next week.
In his first public appearance in about two weeks, Kim on Monday
inspected the command of North Korea's army, examining the plan to
fire four missiles aimed at landing near Guam, the official KCNA
news agency reported.
"He said that if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous
reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity,
testing the self-restraint of the DPRK, the latter will make an
important decision as it already declared," KCNA said.
DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North
Korea's official name.
Wednesday's air exercise took place close to Japanese-controlled
islets in the East China Sea which are also claimed by China. The
uninhabited territory is known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in
While the United States has declined to take sides in the dispute
over the tiny islands, it nonetheless has said it would defend them
from attack under its security alliance with Japan.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in a telephone conversation with
Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's minister for foreign affairs, said tension
on the Korean peninsula was showing some signs of easing but had not
The parties involved should "make a correct judgment and wise choice
by taking a responsible attitude toward history and people", Wang
said, according to a statement on his ministry's website.
(Additional reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo, and Ben Blanchard in
BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel)
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