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US, South Korea drills begin amid tensions with North

US, South Korea drills begin amid tensions with North

South Korean President Mun Gehin said the exercises are entirely defensive and not meant to provoke tension in the region.

Trump this week praised North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, after he did not follow through on a threat to fire missiles in waters off Guam, a USA territory with a large naval base located 2,200 miles northeast of North Korea.

As expected, Pyongyang responded harshly to the drills.

South Korean and US forces began computer-simulated military exercises earlier on Monday amid tension over North Korea's weapons programs, with the North saying it was watching the United States' every move.

However, on Sunday, an editorial in North Korea's official government newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, said that the exercises would "worsen" the state of the peninsula and warned of an "uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war".

"No one can guarantee that this will not escalate into a real war", it said, calling the annual drills a "rehearsal for nuclear war" and the "most naked expression of hostility" toward the North. State media reported that leader Kim Jong Un would assess the US' next move before giving launch orders.

Meanwhile, China and Russian Federation had proposed in July a halt on military exercises in exchange for a freeze on missile tests but Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that the military exercises were "not now on the table as part of the negotiation at any level" and the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercises were going ahead as planned.

The annual drills antagonize Pyongyang, which sees them as practice for an invasion. North and South Korea are technically still at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

The same exercises in 2016 provoked North Korea to conduct nuclear tests.

"North Korea has shown it has no regard for the welfare of its own population, no regard for the security and good relations with its neighbours and no regard for worldwide law", he said.

In recent times, however, calls have been growing for the US and South Korea to suspend their military drills.

The Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercise will conclude on August 31. "And had Pyongyang halted testing in 2015, Washington wouldn't be facing the imminent threat of a North Korean ICBM today". Military exercises are "not now on the table as part of the negotiations in any way".

Two dozen Australian defence personnel are taking part in a 10-day military exercise.

While the allies are pushing ahead with the exercises that date back to 1976, around 17,500 USA troops will participate in the drills - a cutback from past year.

"The dual freeze approach is China's attempt at buck passing and moral equivalency between US actions and North Korean actions", Hass said.

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