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Japan, US, South Korea to conduct joint navy drills amid tensions with North

The US Navy’s nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier arrives at ROK Fleet Command in Busan, South Korea, on September 23, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Japan, the United States, and South Korea are set to hold joint naval drills in the Sea of Japan, as tensions continue to rise on the Korean Peninsula.

Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) announced in a statement on Thursday that the trilateral anti-submarine warfare exercise would be conducted on September 30 in a bid to improve the capability to counter allegedly evolving threats from North Korea, following the latest ballistic missile launches by Pyongyang.

The drills will bring together warships, including the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, the USS Chancellorsville guided-missile cruiser, the USS Barry guided-missile destroyer, South Korea's Munmu the Great destroyer, and Japan's Asahi tanker.

North Korea has already warned that the joint naval drills might trigger an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula.

The military exercises will be staged at a time when US Vice President Kamala Harris is set to visit the heavily-fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas for the first time.

On Thursday, Harris arrived in Seoul on a trip designed to underscore the US commitment to defending South Korea in the face of alleged threats posed by the North.

Harris met South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol at his office in the capital shortly after touching down from Japan, and praised the alliance between the countries as a "linchpin of security and prosperity."

Yoon also called the US vice president's visit "another turning point" in ties.

Harris will visit the demilitarized zone on South Korea's border with the North later in the day. The DMZ has existed since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

While in Tokyo, where she attended the state funeral of assassinated Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Harris condemned North Korea's "illicit weapons program."

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday, while Harris was in Japan, and had fired one before she left Washington, DC, on Sunday.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the latest missile tests would not deter Harris from visiting the DMZ, adding that she wanted to demonstrate the US's "rock-solid commitment" to regional security.

"As you know, North Korea has a history of doing these types of tests," Jean-Pierre said, calling it "not unusual."

The US and South Korea have voiced concerns that Pyongyang has made preparations to conduct its first nuclear test in five years.

North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test in September 2017. However, during inconclusive negotiations later with the US, it dismantled a nuclear facility and has not conducted any other nuclear tests since then.

The United States has warned that it would push for additional sanctions if Pyongyang conducted a seventh nuclear test.

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.

Pyongyang maintains that its weapon 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.

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