Vast US-Japan military exercise begins today
China slams the war games, perceived as almost constituting a military threat. Japan and the United States respond saying that the war games had been planned for a long time. Everyone views them as a way to put pressure on North Korea as well as Beijing.
Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Japan and the United States began their biggest-ever joint military exercises today, involving 44,000 troops, hundreds of aircrafts about 60 ships, including the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (pictured). The drill, which will end on until 10 December, comes only a few days after the United States and South Korea completed a four-day exercise in the Yellow Sea. China has criticised the manoeuvres.

"At present, there are already enough of these kinds of military exercises. Under the present conditions, all relevant parties ought to do more to benefit the maintenance of peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in the region, and not the opposite," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said. For Beijing, Washington is using a recent border incident between the two Koreas as a pretext to boost its presence in the area.

However, top Japanese and US military officials noted that the drills in and around Japan are part of the annual "Keen Sword" manoeuvres. This year, they will also mark the 50th anniversary of the US-Japanese alliance signed in 1960. Japan-US cooperation “is extremely important for peace and stability in East Asia," Japan's Chief of Staff Gen. Ryoichi Oriki said.

Nevertheless, few doubt that the war games are not also a response to North Korea’s attack on 23 November against Yeonpyeong Island, a tiny enclave of civilians and military located near the disputed intra-Korean maritime border. Two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed in the incident.

For the first time, officials from South Korea are participating to the US-Japan exercises as observers.

Experts believe that the show of force is actually destined for China, Pyongyang’s main ally. China is accused of putting enough pressure on its neighbour to solve the current crisis.

Both Japan and South Korea have rejected China’s proposal for renewed six-nation talks (which include Russia and North Korea).

Since China has "significant leverage" with North Korea, it should use it. “Beijing's call for consultations will not substitute for action,” said Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

For its part, North Korea’s official news agency threatened “full-scale war” if the military drills violate the country’s territory. This is not very likely since they are being held well away from Korean territory.

“The traditional friendship of China and North Korea has withstood the tests of international tempests and changes, and replenished itself over time,” Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, told a visiting North Korea delegation.

Meeting in a friendly atmosphere, representatives from the two countries reiterated their commitment to “strengthening strategic communication,” official Chinese media reported.