US, S. Korea begin military exercises

South Korean Army soldiers work on their K-9 self-propelled artillery vehicles during an exercise against possible attacks by North Korea near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea. (AP file)
Updated 21 August 2017

US, S. Korea begin military exercises

SEOUL: South Korean and US forces began computer-simulated military exercises on Monday amid tension over North Korea’s weapons programs, while a report it has earned millions of dollars in exports is likely to raise doubt about the impact of sanctions.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the joint drills, called Ulchi Freedom Guardian, were purely defensive and did not aim to increase tension on the peninsula.
“There is no intent at all to heighten military tension on the Korean peninsula as these drills are held annually and are of a defensive nature,” Moon told Cabinet ministers.
“North Korea should not exaggerate our efforts to keep peace nor should they engage in provocations that would worsen the situation, using (the exercise) as an excuse,” he said.
The joint US-South Korean drills last until Aug. 31 and involve computer simulations designed to prepare for war with a nuclear-capable North Korea.
The US also describes them as “defensive in nature,” a term North Korean state media has dismissed as a “deceptive mask.”
“It is to prepare if something big were to occur and we needed to protect RoK,” said Michelle Thomas, a US military spokeswoman, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.
North Korea views such exercises as preparations for invasion and has fired missiles and taken other actions to show its anger over military drills in the past.
North and South Korea are technically still at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.
North Korea’s rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the US mainland has fueled a surge in regional tension and UN-led sanctions appear to have failed to bite deeply enough to change its behavior.
China, North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, has urged the US and South Korea to scrap the exercises. Russia has also asked for the drills to stop but the US has not backed down.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said North and South Korea and the US all needed to make more effort to ease tension.
“We think that South Korea and the US holding joint drills is not beneficial to easing current tensions or efforts by all sides to promote talks,” she told a daily news briefing.
Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported that a confidential UN report found North Korea evaded UN sanctions by “deliberately using indirect channels” and had generated $270 million in banned exports since February.
The “lax enforcement” of existing sanctions and Pyongyang’s “evolving evasion techniques” were undermining the UN goal of getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Kyodo quoted the report as saying.
There will be no field training during the current exercise, according to US Forces Korea.
The US has about 28,000 troops in South Korea. About 17,500 US service members are participating in the exercise this month, down from 25,000 last year, according to the Pentagon.
Other South Korean allies are also joining this year, with troops from Australia, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, the Netherlands, and New Zealand taking part.


UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

Updated 18 August 2019

UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

  • Johnson will travel for talks with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron
  • Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit

LONDON: UK's Boris Johnson will visit European capitals this week on his first overseas trip as prime minister, as his government said Sunday it had ordered the scrapping of the decades-old law enforcing its EU membership.

Johnson will travel to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on to Paris Thursday for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron, Downing Street confirmed on Sunday, amid growing fears of a no-deal Brexit in two and a half months.

The meetings, ahead of a two-day G7 summit starting Saturday in the southern French resort of Biarritz, are his first diplomatic forays abroad since replacing predecessor Theresa May last month.

Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit or warn that it faces the prospect of Britain's disorderly departure on October 31 -- the date it is due to leave.

European leaders have repeatedly rejected reopening an accord agreed by May last year but then rejected by British lawmakers on three occasions, despite Johnson's threats that the country will leave then without an agreement.

In an apparent show of intent, London announced Sunday that it had ordered the repeal of the European Communities Act, which took Britain into the forerunner to the EU 46 years ago and gives Brussels law supremacy.

The order, signed by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on Friday, is set to take effect on October 31.

"This is a landmark moment in taking back control of our laws from Brussels," Barclay said in a statement.

"This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back -- we are leaving the EU as promised on October 31, whatever the circumstances -- delivering on the instructions given to us in 2016."

The moves come as Johnson faces increasing pressure to immediately recall MPs from their summer holidays so that parliament can debate Brexit.

More than 100 lawmakers, who are not due to return until September 3, have demanded in a letter that he reconvene the 650-seat House of Commons and let them sit permanently until October 31.

"Our country is on the brink of an economic crisis, as we career towards a no-deal Brexit," said the letter, signed by MPs and opposition party leaders who want to halt a no-deal departure.

"We face a national emergency, and parliament must be recalled now."

Parliament is set to break up again shortly after it returns, with the main parties holding their annual conferences during the September break.

Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to call a vote of no confidence in Johnson's government after parliament returns.

He hopes to take over as a temporary prime minister, seek an extension to Britain's EU departure date to stop a no-deal Brexit, and then call a general election.

"What we need is a government that is prepared to negotiate with the European Union so we don't have a crash-out on the 31st," Corbyn said Saturday.

"This government clearly doesn't want to do that."

Britain could face food, fuel and medicine shortages and chaos at its ports in a no-deal Brexit, The Sunday Times newspaper reported, citing a leaked government planning document.

There would likely be some form of hard border imposed on the island of Ireland, the document implied.

Rather than worst-case scenarios, the leaked document, compiled this month by the Cabinet Office ministry, spells out the likely ramifications of a no-deal Brexit, the broadsheet claimed.

The document said logjams could affect fuel distribution, while up to 85 percent of trucks using the main ports to continental Europe might not be ready for French customs.

The availability of fresh food would be diminished and prices would go up, the newspaper said.