An ongoing and “provocative combined aerial drill” between South Korea and the U.S. will necessitate a “corresponding response” from North Korea’s army, a press statement from the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) said on Thursday.
The remark, issued by one of the DPRK departments responsible for inter-Korean issues, slammed what’s been described as a scaled-back alternative to canceled Max Thunder drills as “an open violation” of 2018’s inter-Korean military declaration.
“Now that the south Korean authorities get undisguised in their military provocation against the DPRK together with the U.S., there will be corresponding response to it from our army,” the statement warned.
Though the U.S. and ROK claim to have replaced Max Thunder with reduced-scale training this year, Pyongyang has prior been angered by air exercises at this time of year, last year citing them as grounds for canceling high-level talks.
But despite the reportedly modified nature of this year’s two-week exercise, which kicked off on Monday, the CPRC said Seoul was “seriously mistaken” if it thought the changes could “give relief to us”.
“While staging the large-scale combined aerial drill, the south Korean authorities claim that Max Thunder was thrown into the history and they reduced the scope of the drill by taking into consideration the situation on the Korean peninsula,” the CPRC said.
Describing the air training drill as an “outright challenge to the historic April 27 Panmunjom Declaration and the September Pyongyang Joint Declaration,” the CPRC concluded that Seoul’s actions “greatly disappointed us.”
The two joint declarations referenced by the CPRC last year committed the two Koreas to “completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air, and sea that are the source of military tension and conflict”.
But though the U.S. and ROK canceled large-scale annual exercises and the North has effectively implemented a de facto missile and nuclear test moratorium, the three countries continue with training exercises to keep their militaries prepared.
Further, Pyongyang has twice in the past six months declared the successful testing of new tactical weapons systems.
In context of the broader inter-Korean detente, one South Korean former military observer described Tuesday’s CPRC statement as “preposterous”.
“(This) does not help the peace process or the stability that has been achieved so far,” said retired South Korean Lieutenant General Chun In-bum.
“The above mentioned Alliance exercises were everyday training,” he said of the latest U.S.-ROK air training drills. “Nothing more and nothing less, least of all provocative.”
In March, North Korean state media slammed other U.S.-ROK plans to replace large-scale U.S.–ROK joint military exercises with smaller drills, saying the move violated recent diplomatic agreements.
Although the U.S. and South Korea announced on March 3 they would cancel annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises and replace them with unit level training, the concession did not appear to be enough for Pyongyang.
Yet is thought North Korea’s own winter training drills, which normally take place every year, remain unaltered despite the inter-Korean agreements.
“We are watching the ongoing Korea People’s Army winter training cycle, including a slate of full-spectrum exercises, which is progressing along historic norms, meaning that we have observed no significant change in the size, scope, or timing of their ongoing exercises compared to the same time period over the last four years,” Gen. Robert Abrams testified before the House Armed Services Committee in March.
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