A US aircraft carrier and warships from its strike group have arrived in South Korea for the first time in nearly five years to participate in joint war games in a show of force at North Korea.
The nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan and vessels from its strike group docked in the southern port city of Busan on Friday as part of a hostile push by Washington and Seoul to intimidate Pyongyang.
"The deployment of the carrier USS Ronald Reagan to Busan demonstrates the strength of the South Korea-US alliance," a South Korean defense ministry official said.
The visit aims to "deter North Korea's nuclear and missile threats," the official asserted.
The aircraft carrier is accompanied by two other warships from its strike group -- the USS Chancellorsville, a guided-missile cruiser, and the USS Barry, a guided missile destroyer, the US Navy said.
They will take part in joint war games on South Korea's east coast this month, according to the country’s Yonhap news agency, which noted that the nuclear-powered submarine USS Annapolis is also expected to take part in the military maneuvers.
The drills come as South Korea's hawkish President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, has vowed to further escalate joint military exercises with the US amid heightened tensions with North Korea.
Washington remains Seoul's key military ally and has deployed nearly 28,500 troops in the country as part of measures to “protect” it from the North.
The two countries staged joint military maneuvers last month, marking the resumption of large-scale war games that had been halted due to COVID-19 and what they describe as “failed diplomacy” with Pyongyang.
North Korea, meanwhile, has conducted a series of weapons tests this year. It revised its nuclear law earlier this month, enshrining a "first strike" doctrine and vowing not to give up its nuclear weapons in the face of threats from massive military drills near its waters by the US and South Korea.
Pyongyang has tested nuclear weapons six times since 2006. Its last and most powerful test came in 2017 -- which was described as a hydrogen bomb -- with an estimated yield of 250 kilotons.
Earlier this month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stressed that his country would never surrender its nuclear arsenal or use it as a bargaining chip for denuclearization with the US.
Kim described it as a move to bolster the country’s nuclear status and make clear that such weapons will not be bargained for, accusing the US of pushing hard to weaken the North’s defenses.
"(We will) never give up nuclear weapons and there is absolutely no denuclearization, and no negotiation and no bargaining chip to trade in the process," Kim was quoted as saying in the KCNA.
He lashed out at the US for pressuring his country through sanctions to give up its nuclear weapons, calling it a "misjudgment and miscalculation" that won't materialize even in a "hundred years."
Tensions between the two estranged neighbors have heightened in recent years, fueled by South Korea's growing alliance with the US and Washington's sanctions against Pyongyang.