The South Korean military on Monday said Seoul and Washington would refrain from publicizing future joint military drills, though denied the possibility of scaling down or canceling any upcoming exercises.
The news follows reports in multiple South Korean outlets on Sunday that ROK defense minister Song Young-moo and U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis had agreed to minimize publicity of upcoming exercises, quoting an unnamed high-level military official.
The two defense chiefs held a bilateral meeting on Saturday on the sidelines of the 17th Shangri-La Dialogue.
The U.S. defense secretary reportedly agreed with Song’s suggestion to keep future exercise more “low-key,” saying: “100% absolutely.”
“We will refrain from publicizing or disclosing the content [of the drills] to the maximum,” defense ministry deputy spokesperson Lee Jin-woo said during Monday’s regular news briefing.
Seoul will also seek to prevent the leaking of details about future joint military drills, he said.
The South Korean military previously tried to keep the annual joint air combat Max Thunder Exercise between the ROK and the U.S. as low profile as possible.
The presence of F-22 Raptor stealth fighters in the drills, however, was revealed to the public when civilians living near Gwangju Air Base took photos of the aircraft and published them online.
“We can’t prohibit such spontaneous disclosures,” Lee said. “But we will take measures to the maximum about the concerns, so they won’t be repeated again…”
The South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND) on Monday, however, reiterated Seoul and Washington will conduct joint military drills “ordinarily according to the annual plan” and that they would not be affected by an upcoming DPRK-U.S. summit.
“We’ve never reviewed or discussed the issue,” spokesperson Lee told assembled media. “I’d like to say, once again, that we’ve never reviewed or discussed the issue related to drills including RIMPAC or UFG.”
The North’s state-run media outlets recently denounced the South Korean military for participating in the biennial multilateral RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) naval exercise, scheduled to be held between June 27 and August 2 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.
State media commentary also criticized plans to go ahead with the annual large-scale Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercise in August.
Uriminzokkiri on Monday reported Seoul’s decision to “adhere to military confrontation scheme” is “clearly a dangerous military provocation which runs counter to the Panmunjom Declaration” signed by the two Koreas in April.
“The South military warmongers’ confrontation scheme does nothing to help national reconciliation and unity and the guarantee of peace on the Korean peninsula,” the Uriminzokkiri commentary read.
“It might lead to spoiling the atmosphere for dialogue and peace established after a long time.”
Sunday saw the Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), warn that participation in upcoming military exercises was “clearly contrary” to the intentions of the Panmunjom Declaration.
In a commentary, the DPRK’s most widely-circulated newspaper said the South Korean military would bear responsibility if the move resulted in “grave consequences for the situation on the Korean peninsula.”
“To ease military tensions on the Korean peninsula and resolve war risks, provocative saber-rattling which opposes the counterpart for dialogue should be stopped above everything else,” the article stated. “Dialogue and confrontation, peace and war practices can never be compatible.”
Monday’s news briefing saw the MND say that Seoul expects Pyongyang will respond positively to the steps to minimize the publicity of future drills.
“Inter-Korean talks on such issues have been held,” deputy spokesperson Lee said. “We expect that the North will understand our sincerity in the process [of dialogue], and show a considerate response to our measures.”
When asked about why Seoul has not responded to Pyongyang’s repeated condemnation of the drills, Lee said he was aware that opinions on the ROK-U.S. military drills have been delivered to the North “in a sufficient manner.”
ROK-U.S. joint military drills have long been a sensitive issue for the North, with the Rodong last week calling for the U.S. to cease the exercises if it “sincerely” hoped for talks with the North.
Pyongyang in May withdrew from planned high-level inter-Korean talks, blaming, among other factors, the-then ongoing joint Max Thunder exercise.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: U.S. Pacific Command’s Flickr
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