News / Asia

US Forces on Korean Peninsula Reject China's Criticism of Maritime Exercises with South Korea

Commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, General Walter Sharp
Commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, General Walter Sharp



The leader of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula rejects China's criticism of maritime exercises planned with South Korea. But the top American general in South Korea asks Beijing to work more closely with Washington and Seoul to deter the North Korean threat.                                                                                                                                                                                               

The commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, General Walter Sharp, says every nation, within its territorial limits, is obligated to train its forces against perceived threats.

"South Korea has that right. And South Korea and the U.S. work very closely to be able to make sure that we have the defense capabilities from a military perspective in place to deter and defeat," says General Sharp. "And that's what these exercises are about."

The joint maritime exercise is among of a number of South Korean responses to the sinking of one its navy ships in March. An international investigation determined that a North Korean torpedo sunk the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors.

The exercise is to be held in the Yellow Sea, prompting protests from China that it is too close to its territorial waters.

U.S. and South Korean officials have held off on revealing the exact dates and location of the drills until after the United Nations Security Council completes debate on a resolution about the Cheonan.

Speaking at a conference in Seoul on Friday, Walter Sharp rejected China's protests. Instead, he urged Beijing, as a leading member of the international community, to work closer with Seoul and Washington to deter the North Korean military threat.

And that threat, the commander of the 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea warns, remains potent. He noted North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's pledge to transform his country into a "great and powerful nation" by 2012.

"About the only way that he has to even attempt to get to that point is through military provocations and threatening the neighbors," he added. "So I worry that over the next several years, from now to 2012, there'll be more provocations."

The United States and South Korea have delayed by three years, to 2015, the transfer of wartime command of South Korean's forces to Seoul. Sharp explained South Korea needs more time to prepare "to lead the war fight."

Discussions on procedures for that transfer, he says, will begin later this month when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are in Seoul to meet with South Korean officials.

The sinking of the Cheonan raised tensions on the Korean peninsula, with North Korea vowing retaliation if the U.N. Security Council blames it for the incident.

North Korea also has refused for nearly two years to resume talks on ending its nuclear weapon programs.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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