North Korea has criticized the recent agreement between the United States, South Korea and Japan on strengthening military cooperation, asserting it is part of a US plan to create a military alliance like NATO in the region.
US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol met on the sidelines of a NATO summit on Wednesday and agreed to strengthen their security cooperation over North Korean nuclear and missile threats.
At the outset of the 23-minute talks in Madrid, the trio agreed that the progress of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs posed serious threats to not only the Korean peninsula but also East Asia and the world.
However, North Korea’s foreign ministry spokesperson said that the real purpose of the US spreading the rumor about “threat from North Korea” is to “provide an excuse for attaining military supremacy over the Asia-Pacific region,” KCNA state news agency reported on Sunday.
“The prevailing situation more urgently calls for building up the country’s defense to actively cope with the rapid aggravation of the security environment,” the spokesperson added.
The gathering in Madrid took place as the recent change of the South Korean government created fresh impetus toward improving soured bilateral ties between Tokyo and Seoul. It also comes amid speculation that Pyongyang’s first nuclear test since 2017 could occur at any time.
South Korea and Japan are Washington’s closest allies in the Pacific with their military and national defense entirely reliant on the American military. Their relationship with each other, however, has been strained by historical tensions over Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910-1945.
Meanwhile, the defense ministers of Japan, South Korea and the United States recently agreed to hold trilateral exercises that have not been conducted since December 2017 so as to deal with ballistic missile threats.
North Korea has tested a number of ballistic missiles this year, including massive intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), new hypersonic missiles, and a short-range missile potentially designed for tactical nuclear weapons.
It maintains, however, that its weapons tests are a defensive measure against threats posed by the massive presence of US forces near its territorial waters and the regular holding of joint US-led war games with Japan with South Korea.
Tensions are simmering on the Korean Peninsula following joint naval exercises off Okinawa, with the participation of a US aircraft carrier and South Korean destroyers. The US and Japan conducted a separate drill, flying warplanes above waters in the Korean Peninsula.
Earlier this month, China and Russia said the United States is fueling tensions after they vetoed a US-led push for tougher sanctions on North Korea at the United Nations.