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US Continues Military Flexing in Asia


As one U.S. joint military exercise ends in Asia, another is about to begin. As was the case with the just-concluded Yellow Sea naval maneuvers, officials are saying the latest war game is not a reaction to North Korea's recent artillery attack. But they say it should further demonstrate the capability of American-led military alliances to deter any potential aggressor.

The U.S. and Japanese militaries will hold a one-week joint exercise from Friday, mainly in waters off Japan's southern coast near the Korean peninsula.

The drill, named Keen Sword, will involve combined forces of 60 warships, 400 aircraft and 44,000 personnel.

Air Force Major Joe Macri, at U.S. Forces Japan headquarters, says this field exercise is routinely held, every other year, and is not tied to the increased tension on the Korean peninsula.

"There's going to be naval operations, air operations, land - pretty much the full spectrum of military activities. There is going to be a lot of flying, some movement involving the aircraft carrier George Washington," he said. "It encompasses everything from large-scale flying activities to smaller-level base defense."

South Korean military officers will observe the exercise.

It will be much larger than this week's naval drill conducted in the Yellow Sea by the American and South Korean navies.

The two separate drills by the United States, with its major allies in Asia, come in wake of North Korea's November 23 artillery attack on a South Korean island.

Anxiety is increasing about the expectations of a further armed strike by North Korea.

A report in a Japanese newspaper briefly rattled currency markets in Asia, Thursday morning. The Tokyo Shimbun reported that, sometime this month, North Korea might target a province adjacent to Seoul, the South Korean capital. The article attributes the information to a source who had spoken with a North Korean intelligence official.

Seoul is only 40 kilometers south of the demilitarized zone - the border separating the two Korea's. The capital is well within the range of North Korean army artillery.

Yang Mujin is a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies. He says it is not surprising such rumors are finding their way into the media at this juncture, but says everything being reported should not be believed.

But Professor Yang cautions that the South Korean government needs to be prepared for any possibilities of further North Korean provocation.

In a Wednesday parliament briefing, South Korea's national intelligence chief warned the chances are high of another military attack by Pyongyang. South Korea's defense minister made a similar comment the previous day.

South Korean military officials say they are planning to hold extensive live-fire exercises in waters surrounding the country, beginning Monday. Some of it is to take place on or near Yeonpyeong island, off the west coast.

Yeonpyeong was hit by a lethal barrage of North Korean artillery during a South Korean live fire exercise, last week.

Just before the new drills begin, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to meet in Washington with the South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers.

On the sidelines of a summit this week in Kazakhstan, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan met with Mrs. Clinton. Officials say they discussed how to respond to last week's North Korean artillery attack on Yeonpyeong island.

South Korea's foreign ministry says the two ministers, shared the view that before multi-national talks on North Korea can resume, as requested by China, Pyongyang must take concrete actions to prove its genuine willingness to denuclearize.

China, North Korea's only significant remaining ally, has refrained from criticizing Pyongyang for the artillery attack.

China's main official newspaper quotes the country's chief legislator as telling a visiting North Korean delegation that the friendship between Beijing and Pyongyang has withstood the tests of international tempests and changes and replenished itself over time."

Some regional analysts speculate North Korea's increased belligerence is designed to force a resumption of international negotiations that would result with Pyongyang being delivered badly-needed outside aid.

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