Foreign and Military Affairs

China has 'no plan' to hold Sino-DPRK exercise

By Li Xiaokun (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-16 06:50
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BEIJING - China on Thursday dismissed the possibility of launching a joint military exercise with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) as a countermeasure to upcoming drills by the United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK).

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The US and ROK are considering holding continuous joint military exercises within the year to deter Pyongyang in the wake of the sinking of an ROK warship in March, Seoul-based media reported on the same day.

"The US is considering that as the countermeasure for the Cheonan incident the joint military exercise should not be held just once, but should go on continuously so as to send clear messages to Pyongyang," an unnamed diplomatic source in Washington told Seoul's Chosun Ilbo (Korea Daily News).

"So, after the joint military exercise scheduled this month, the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercise (an annual drill between the US and ROK) every August will be strengthened there will also be various exercises at different levels" in regional waters including the Yellow Sea, the paper reported.

The coming US-ROK joint drill is considered to be the largest between the two since 1976.

Asked on Thursday whether China intends to hold drills in regional waters with the DPRK amid latest reports of the US-ROK joint exercises, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang dismissed the possibility and said "there is no single country or military alliance that can solve issues regarding regional security".

"It needs joint efforts from countries in the region," he said.

Analysts said China is highly sensitive to foreign military presence in the Yellow Sea, described by Japanese media as a "gateway to China".

China's strong protests against the US-ROK joint exercise, especially targeted at the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, has been cited as the main reason for the frequent delays of the upcoming drill.

US defense officials said earlier this week that the USS George Washington will stay in the Sea of Japan.

The ROK and US military will lead exercises in the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan separately, Yonhap News Agency reported on Thursday.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell on Wednesday also dismissed comments that the rearrangement of the USS George Washington was made under pressure from China, saying that "those determinations are made by us, and us alone".

But the Chosun Ilbo reported on July 13 that the move was a compromise which "tries its best not to irritate China and at the same time keep the face and stance of governments and militaries of the US and ROK".

Song Xiaojun, a Beijing-based military analyst, said Washington has achieved its goal of delaying the handing over of the wartime operational control to the ROK for three years in the wake of the Cheonan incident.

"Now there is no need for the US to irritate China for the ROK," he said.

Details including the date of the latest US-ROK exercise will reportedly be decided at the meeting between US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and their ROK counterparts on July 21 in Seoul.

Pyongyang's military on Thursday also held its first talks with the US-led UN Command, which oversees the Korean War truce, on the sinking of the ROK warship.

The colonel-level meeting was reportedly conducted in "an amiable mood".

"There were a lot of smiles and a few laughs," one officer attending the meeting told Reuters.

However, Jin Canrong, associate dean of the school of international relations at the Beijing-based Renmin University of China, said there were concerns that calls for continuous and escalated US-ROK exercises will "add to regional tensions and draw overreaction from Pyongyang, which nobody can predict".

The US, ROK and other nations have accused Pyongyang of firing a torpedo which sank the Cheonan in March and caused the deaths of 46 crew members. Pyongyang strongly denies the allegations.

The UN Security Council last Friday issued a statement which condemned the attack but did not apportion blame - a result hailed by the DPRK as a "great diplomatic victory".

Ma Liyao contributed to the story.