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Joint drill dangerous game for Peninsula

By Zhu Ping | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-08-22 14:15

The Ulchi Freedom Guardian military drills conducted by the Republic of Korea and the United States every year always unfold like this: the ROK and the US mobilize forces each summer to simulate “defending” against a “nuclear-capable” Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the DPRK then makes a tit-for-tat response vowing to take resolute steps for a “preventive war”.

But this year, the US-ROK joint military exercise, which is being staged from Aug 21 to 31, was slightly different as the participation of local US forces in the 11-day exercise has been scaled down from 25,000 last year to 17,500 this year. It’s widely hoped, if only speculation, that the US military showed restraint on the annual large-scale computer-simulated drill this year.

If so, the move will elicit sighs of relief from most people in the region, if it is intended to cool tensions, as this year there is a much greater chance of sparking the powder keg that the Korean Peninsula has become than ever before.

Unfortunately, the joint military exercises are being held at a particularly sensitive time and will likely only add further fuel to the fire, since US and the DPRK continue to escalate tensions by threatening each other.

Unhelpfully, US Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Sunday that the reduction simply reflects a need for fewer troops.

In July, the DPRK launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles which it claimed could reach the US mainland. Responding to US President Donald Trump’s warning this month that the DPRK faced “fire and fury”, the DPRK threatened to fire missiles toward the US military bases on the island of Guam.

For a long time, the US has blamed China for not leveraging greater influence to force the DPRK to abandon pursuit of nuclear weapons, ignoring the DPRK is an independent country that has its own defense and diplomacy policies. However, it persists in turning a deaf to China’s “dual halt” proposal that the US and the ROK halt military drills while the DPRK drop its nuclear policy at the same time.

People in the ROK are reportedly worried that the US may take unilateral action against the DPRK, which will also put the ROK, the US’ ally in danger.

It will be extremely risky and dangerous if the US believes taking tough actions, are the only way to denuclearize the DPRK. The US should not forget that carrots played an important role in getting Iran to the negotiating table on its nuclear issue. And it was the sticks the US used against Iraq and Libya that convinced the DPRK it needed nuclear weapons for its survival.

It’s time for the US to stop blame game and truly shoulder its due responsibility by taking the right approach to restore peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

The author is a writer with China Daily.

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