Japan, South Korea and the United States have conducted a joint missile defence exercise directed at countering North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal. South Korea and the US also launched separate bilateral drills on April 17 with about 110 warplanes, including advanced F-35 fighter jets, that will go on through April 28.
North Korea had recently conducted one of its most aggressive weapons displays in years by flight-testing for the first time an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) powered by solid fuel. It is considered a more movable, harder-to-trace weapon and could directly aim at the continental US.
South Korea and the US in March conducted their biggest field exercises in years and held separate naval and aerial drills with an aircraft carrier battle group and nuclear-capable B-52 bombers.
North Korea’s growing nuclear threat has also led South Korea and Japan to increase their security cooperation and mend ties strained by history and trade disputes. The neighbours recently held their first security meeting of senior diplomats and defence officials after five years. During the meeting, Seoul and Tokyo discussed North Korea’s nuclear programme and trilateral cooperation with the US.
On April 15, a South Korean naval vessel fired warning shots to repel a North Korean patrol vessel that temporarily crossed the countries’ disputed western sea boundary while chasing a Chinese fishing boat.