The U.S. and South Korea said Sunday they are postponing joint military drills.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the move is an “act of goodwill” toward North Korea.
“I see this as a good-faith effort by the United States and the Republic of Korea to enable peace, to shape … to facilitate a political agreement — a deal, if you will — that leads to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Esper said.
The joint announcement was made in Bangkok at an Asia defense ministers conference.
Shortly after the announcement, Japan’s defense minister made a blistering counterstatement.
“No one could be optimistic about North Korea,” Taro Kono said. “North Korea has repeatedly launched more than 20 missiles this year, including new types of ballistic missiles, as well as a submarine-launched ballistic missile.”
Kwon Jong Gun, a roving ambassador for North Korea’s foreign ministry, said earlier this month the joint drills are a “provocative and dangerous act.”
He added that the U.S., in its “reckless frenzy,” is “throwing a wet blanket over the spark of the DPRK-U.S. dialogue on the verge of extinction.” The DPRK is the acronym for North Korea’s official name in English, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Since U.S. President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their historic Singapore summit in June 2018, the U.S. has either suspended or scaled down the joint military exercises in order to enhance the atmosphere for denuclearization talks to continue.
The U.S. and South Korea have been conducting annual military exercises since 1955, months after the end of the Korean War, in order to maintain their combat abilities to defend against North Korea. There are about 28,500 American troops currently stationed in South Korea.