South Korea will “determine its stance” on upcoming joint military exercises with the United States to avoid a “serious problem” with North Korea, Unification Minister Lee In-young said Wednesday.
The government’s review will consider issues that include the coronvirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) and the Biden administration’s policy toward North Korea, and will be “in line with denuclearization and a permanent peace settlement on the Korean Peninsula,” Lee said at a briefing with international journalists in downtown Seoul.
“I sincerely hope the two Koreas will cope wisely and flexibly in dealing with this situation so that the issue of joint military exercises does not escalate to a serious problem on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
Pyongyang has consistently condemned the joint exercises, characterizing them as hostile and a rehearsal for an invasion. In January, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for the end of the drills at a party congress, saying they violated a military agreement signed by the two Koreas in 2018.
North Korea has used the military exercises in the past as a pretext for conducting weapons tests of its own, and observers are wondering whether Pyongyang is planning any provocations to welcome in the new administration of US President Joe Biden.
Last week, the Pentagon said that it remained committed to joint training exercises with South Korean forces so to maintain a “readiness posture” against threats from the North.
Lee also defended controversial legislation that bans the sending of anti-North Korea leaflets across the border by defectors and activists – another hot-button issue with the North.
Critics in South Korea and abroad have charged that the impending law, set to take effect March 30, limits freedom of speech and hinders the flow of information to citizens in the reclusive country.
“I want to make it clear that the purpose of the amendment was to protect the life and safety of the 1.12 million living along the border area [with the North],” Lee said.