South Korea Carries Out Naval Exercises As North Korea Strengthens Ties With China

On April 11th  and 12th, a joint naval drill between South Korea, Japan, and the United States took place in international waters south of Jeju Island. This long-planned for operation intended to ensure that Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington would be ready to intercept any nuclear or missile strike coming from North Korea (DPRK). Concurrently, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met China’s top legislator, Zhao Leji, during his goodwill tour in the country, a meeting many commentators described as a step forward in strengthening ties between the two nations.

“The participating forces conducted anti-submarine warfare drills to improve their responses to North Korean underwater threats, including from submarines and submarine-launched ballistic missiles” Seoul’s navy declared, as reported in Reuters. Additionally, this exercise sought to improve strategies and test capabilities that can impede the DPRK’s illegal transport of weapons of mass destruction. These drills proved to be particularly relevant, especially following North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s latest remarks made on April 10th. As reported by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Pyongyang’s official media outlet, Kim, during his visit to the Kim Jong Il University of Military and Politics, North Korea’s main military academy, said that “now is the time to be more prepared for war than ever” due to the region’s geopolitical instability.

The relationship between North and South Korea has always been fraught, but relations have  deteriorated ever since Kim came to power in 2012. The DPRK has dramatically increased spending on military and nuclear weapons programs, and it continues to make alliances and stage drills that deeply worry South Korea and her allies in Tokyo and Washington. These reckless actions have also incurred fierce condemnation from the international community, which has imposed harsh economic sanctions via the United Nations on the country. It is due to these measures that Pyongyang has begun to sign agreements with countries like Russia and China, the only actors willing to provide support to Kim’s regime, both in economic and military terms. The meeting between Kim and Zhao is further evidence of this rapprochement with Moscow and Beijing, with Kim stating that he expects the two countries to “steadily carry forward and develop this durable tradition of friendship” so that they would see “responsible progress and successful fruition of the Year of DPRK-China Friendship.”

Military operations by South Korea and its allies are likely to continue in future, especially if Pyongyang insists on building its military and nuclear arsenals. Moreover, North Korea will follow through with its intention to bolster ties with China, its main economic lifeline, notwithstanding the grave repercussions that such actions could entail on the world stage. Lingering misunderstandings and ideological divisions will undoubtedly remain in place until this volatile impasse is stabilised for good. Peace talks aiming at brokering everlasting amity between the two countries need to be carried out immediately. Negotiations must guarantee that both nations can coexist without threats to either’s existence.