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South Korea needles Tokyo with military drills around Japanese-claimed islets

South Korea needles Tokyo with military drills around Japanese-claimed islets
Days after Seoul scrapped intelligence-sharing with Japan, all branches of its military descended on a handful of disputed islets for two-day drills, raising ire in Tokyo and fueling a brewing trade conflict between the neighbors.

The wargames will see members of the South Korean Navy, Air Force, Army and Marines hone their combat skills around the Dokdo islets that lie halfway between South Korea and Japan, according to Yonhap news agency. The drills take place each year in June and December, but they were re-scheduled this time to show “determination to defend the country’s territories,” an unnamed navy official told the agency.

Seoul has doubled the number of troops and the amount of hardware involved in previous exercises, deploying the country’s first Aegis-capable destroyer ‘Sejong the Great,’ and nine other warships, along with 10 jets, including the F-15K fighter. The South Korean Navy is one of the few non-US operators of Aegis, an advanced command and control system that uses powerful computers and radars to track and guide weapons to enemy targets.

Japan, which considers the Dokdo islets part of its own territory and calls them Takeshima, has been unappreciative of Seoul’s saber-rattling, lodging a protest through diplomatic channels. Tokyo expressed its “deep regret” over the exercises and “strongly urged” Seoul to stop them immediately, Kyodo reported.

The barren islets – otherwise known as the Liancourt Rocks – have been controlled by South Korea since 1954. Over the years, they became a source of tension between Seoul and Tokyo, with both sides citing historical documents to prove their rights over the area.

Aside from the territorial dispute, the drills put even more strain on the two Asian economic giants’ ties, which were already at their lowest point in decades. Last week, South Korea pulled out of a key intelligence-sharing pact with Japan in response to Tokyo’s decision to strip Seoul of its preferential trading status.

Both countries are key US allies in the Asia-Pacific region. However, US President Donald Trump has yet to suggest bringing to bear his self-acclaimed deal-making capabilities – despite having inserted himself in quite a few other two-way disputes, from Israel and Palestine to India and Pakistan. “We’ll see what happens” was all he had to say to the media on Friday, calling South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese premier Shinzo Abe “good friends.”

Also on rt.com South Koreans urge boycott of Japanese goods in row over WWII forced labor

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