SEOUL -- The U.S. enlisted several of its key military assets for joint exercises with South Korea that began Monday, likely as a warning against further missile or nuclear tests by North Korea, drawing a strong rebuke from the rogue state.
A U.S. Defense Department spokesman said the drills are intended to promote interoperability between the American and South Korean forces, not as a rehearsal of an attack on North Korea, news outlet Voice of America reported.
A South Korean defense official also said that the exercises will be conducted south of the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border between the two Koreas.
But despite the measured comments, the exercise involves an unusually extensive array of strategic assets. The USS Ronald Reagan nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, for example, serves as the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 5, which consists of up to 12 vessels including missile destroyers and cruisers. The Ronald Reagan on its own can carry 75 aircraft, such as the F/A-18 fighter jet.
The USS Michigan, a guided-missile submarine with the ability to support special operations forces missions, had also entered South Korea's Port of Busan on Oct. 13. South Korean media reported that special operations forces are taking part in the exercises.
A military air exhibition opened in Seoul on Tuesday, featuring the American F-35 stealth fighter also used by the South Korean and Japanese forces as well as the F-22, said to be the most lethal fighter in the world. B-1B strategic bombers, which can fly from the U.S. territory of Guam to the Korean Peninsula in just two hours or so, also were at the show.
Greater tensions resulting from the joint exercises demonstrate that the U.S. and South Korea are "threatening the existence and development of the Korean nation," a spokesman for a North Korean government agency said in a statement published Wednesday by the North's Korean Central News Agency.
North Korea's enemies should remember that the "toughest countermeasures" will put an end to any strike against the country in "a single stroke," he also said.
Pyongyang has conducted no additional provocations for over a month since its last missile test Sept. 15, a marked slowdown given the country launched missiles almost weekly at times in recent months.
Some attribute the shift to the deployment of U.S. strategic assets. But others expect the North to resume the provocations when U.S. President Donald Trump visits Asia next month. The U.S. will keep its nuclear carrier around the Korean Peninsula after the drills in preparation for Trump's visit, the South's Dong-A Ilbo news organization reported Wednesday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang discussed the situation with reporters Monday.
"We hope that all relevant parties can exercise restraint and strive to make the current situation move towards the direction of abatement and the resumption of dialogue," he said.