Three US carrier strike groups will conduct drills in the Western Pacific during Trump’s visit to the region, according to officials. It comes as the US president reiterated Washington’s willingness to use military force against Pyongyang if necessary.
The exercise will include the USS ‘Nimitz,’ the ‘Ronald Reagan,’ the ‘Theodore Roosevelt,’ and their accompanying warships, several US officials told media. It will be the first time that three US carrier strike groups have exercised together in the region since 2007.
The Japanese destroyer ‘Inazuma’ will also join in the exercise, according to two Japanese government officials. Its participation follows a separate three-day exercise with the ‘Reagan’ and two Indian warships in the Sea of Japan, which ended on Monday.
US and Japanese officials declined to disclose the exact date or location of the exercise. The Pentagon and the Navy’s Pacific Fleet have also declined to comment.
Similar exercises by the US and its ally South Korea have repeatedly enraged Pyongyang, which claims that such training is a rehearsal for invasion. In October, a naval drill between the two countries prompted the North to renew its threat to fire missiles towards the US territory of Guam.
However, this has not stopped the countries from staging exercises. Just four days ago, two US B-1B strategic bombers conducted a drill over South Korea.
News of the upcoming exercise emerges as US President Donald Trump continues his tour of Asia. The visit is aimed at pushing the international community to exercise maximum pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear program.
However, Trump isn’t being welcomed by everyone. As he arrived in Seoul on Tuesday, a gathering of protesters took to the streets. They held banners which read “No Trump, No War,” and “Trump NOT Welcomed!”
The protests are the latest demonstration by those who believe such drills, along with Trump’s vow to “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatens the US, are pushing the peninsula closer to war. Still, Trump showed no signs of backing down on Tuesday, reiterating that the US is prepared to use military force against Pyongyang if needed.
“We cannot allow North Korea to threaten all that we have built,” Trump said during a joint press conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He added, however, that “We hope to God we don’t have to use” full military capabilities.
Trump also urged North Korea to “do the right thing.” He added that he does “see some movement” from Pyongyang while declining to elaborate on the remark.
Meanwhile, both Russia and China have repeatedly called for all sides of the conflict to exercise restraint. When asked about the carrier exercises on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying once again reiterated those calls.
“All relevant sides should exercise restraint, avoid irritating each other, dedicate themselves to lowering the tense situation on the peninsula, and at the same time make positive efforts to get the North Korean nuclear issue back on a track to a resolution via talks as soon as possible,” she said.
Russia has also pointed out that diplomacy is the only way to resolve the crisis, with President Vladimir Putin stating in September that “Ramping up military hysteria in such conditions is senseless – it’s a dead end.” He added that it “could lead to a global, planetary catastrophe and a huge loss of human life.”