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Dokdo drills aren’t going to be delayed any longer

Aug 05,2019
Korea is reviewing carrying out combined maritime defense drills on and near its easternmost Dokdo islets later this month, which had been delayed for the past two months because of strained bilateral relations with Japan, said multiple military and government sources Sunday.

The timing comes in the middle of an escalating diplomatic and trade row between Seoul and Tokyo after Japan removed Korea from a so-called white list of countries with minimal export restrictions Friday. The Korean government may be intending a message to Japan if the drills are conducted this month: Aug. 15 is the anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, which lasted from 1910 to 1945.

“The Dokdo defense drills were initially scheduled for June, but they were delayed, taking into consideration the impact it may have on Korea-Japan relations,” a government source said. “However, as Japan continues to aggravate the situation, the predominant opinion is to hold the Dokdo drills this month.”

The combined drills, involving the Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marine Corps, train troops for combat readiness and defend against a possible invasion of the Dokdo islets in the East Sea and take place twice a year. They were held in June and December last year.

The Dokdo drills date back to 1986. The Dongbang Exercise designed to defend the airspace and waters around Dokdo was launched in 1996, initially quietly to avoid disturbing relations with Japan. The drills have changed names several times.

The exercise usually includes Korea’s 3,200-ton Gwanggaeto the Great destroyer and a 6,500-ton Coast Guard patrol vessel, along with aircraft such as its F-15K fighters, P-3C maritime surveillance planes and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

Japan regularly protests the exercises, and this round will probably escalate tensions with Tokyo, which also claims the islets and calls them Takeshima.

Seoul maintains that there is no territorial dispute over the Dokdo islets, which are under Korea’s administrative control.

Korean police usually guard Dokdo, but in the case of an invasion, the military will defend it.

Another government official said, “the number of troops taking part this year will be similar to last year’s, but the training scenario will be much more offensive.”

In order not to annoy Japan, the Korean military has kept the Dokdo drills low-key in the past, but this year, it may opt to publicize the exercise more.

Simultaneously, Seoul has also been considering scrapping the bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia), its military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, following Korea’s removal from the white list Friday.

Japan has been protesting the Korean Supreme Court’s rulings on the wartime forced labor issue late last year and since the beginning of July implemented export restrictions on key materials needed by Korea to manufacture chips and displays, claiming the reasons as a lack of trust and possible national security concerns.

BY LEE CHUL-JAE, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]