US, Japan and South Korea to host joint missile tracking drills

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The US, Japan and South Korea will hold a two-day missile tracking drill, Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force announced.

The drills will be held in waters off the coast of Japan on Monday and Tuesday, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said during a visit to a garrison in northern Japan.

The exercise will be aimed at “practising tracking an object and sharing information on it among the three countries,” said a defense official who declined to be identified. “It will translate into a measure against ballistic missiles,” he said.

The move comes as tensions with North Korea continue to increase over Pyongyang’s rapidly emerging weapons programs.

A THAAD interceptor is launched from a base in Alaska.

A THAAD interceptor is launched from a base in Alaska

The US and South Korea held large-scale military drills last week that the North said made the outbreak of war “an established fact.”

North Korea has shown rapid advances in both its development of long range missiles and its nuclear bomb capabilities. The North’s advances come amid growing international condemnation and defiance of UN sanctions.

Pyongyang launched its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile  (ICBM) ever in late November, and claimed it was capable of reaching the mainland United States.

The upcoming missile defense exercise will be the sixth time the US, Japan and South Korea have shared tracking information on ballistic missiles.

Putting pressure on China

It’s unclear whether the United State’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which has been deployed in South Korea, will be used. The THAAD system has sparked controversy because China opposes it.

Beijing fears the system’s powerful radar can peer deep into Chinese territory, compromising its own security.

Read more: The limits of missile defense

Infografik Timeline North Korean missile tests

After the North’s latest missile test the US warned Pyongyang that its leadership would be “utterly destroyed” if war erupted. The US defense department has staged repeated shows of force after North Korean military tests.

Washington is also pressuring China and other countries to cut diplomatic and trade relations with the North, as part of an international effort to squeeze Pyongyang by cutting off its illegal cash flows which are widely believed to be funding the country’s weapons programs.

South Korea also announced Sunday that it would impose new sanctions on 20 institutions and a dozen individuals in North Korea, barring any financial transactions between those sanctioned and South Koreans.

“This unilateral sanction will prevent illegal funds flowing to North Korea and contribute to reinforce international communities’ sanctions against North Korea,” South Korea’s finance ministry said in a statement.

A senior UN envoy has warned of the grave risk that a miscalculation could trigger conflict with North Korea, and he urged Pyongyang to keep the channels of communication open after a rare visit to the isolated state.

bik/rc (Reuters, AFP)