North Korea accused the United States on Tuesday of pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war after a pair of strategic US bombers flew training drills with the South Korean and Japanese air forces in another show of strength.
The two supersonic B-1B Lancer bombers were deployed amid rising tensions over North Korea’s pursuit of its nuclear and missile programs in defiance of U.N. sanctions and pressure from the United States.
The flight of the two bombers on Monday came as US President Donald Trump said that he would be “honored” to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the right circumstances, and as his CIA director landed in South Korea for talks.
South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told a briefing in Seoul that Monday’s joint drill was conducted to deter provocations by the North.
North Korea said the bombers conducted “a nuclear bomb dropping drill against major objects” in its territory at a time when Trump and “other US warmongers are crying out for making a preemptive nuclear strike” on the North.
“The reckless military provocation is pushing the situation on the Korean peninsula closer to the brink of nuclear war,” the North’s official KCNA news agency said on Tuesday.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been high for weeks, driven by concerns that the North might conduct its sixth nuclear test in defiance of pressure from the United States and Pyongyang’s sole major ally, China.
The US military’s THAAD anti-missile defense system has reached starting operational capacity in South Korea, US officials told Reuters, although they cautioned that it would not be completely operational for some months.
China has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the system, whose powerful radar it fears could reach inside Chinese territory. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang again denounced THAAD on Tuesday.
“We will resolutely take necessary measures to defend our interests,” Geng stated, without elaborating.
Asked about Trump’s suggestion he could meet Kim, Geng said China had noted US comments that it wanted to utilize peaceful means to resolve the issue. Trump has been recently been full of praise of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to rein in its neighbor.
“China has always believed that using peaceful means via dialog and consultation to resolve the peninsula’s nuclear issue is the only realistic, feasible means to achieve denuclearisation of the peninsula and maintain peace and stability there, and is the only correct choice,” Geng told a daily news briefing.
It was widely feared North Korea could conduct its sixth nuclear test on or around April 15 to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the North’s founding leader, Kim Il Sung, or on April 25 to coincide with the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army.
The North has conducted such tests or missile launches to mark significant events in the past.
Instead, North Korea conducted an annual military parade, featuring a display of missiles on April 15 and then a large, live-fire artillery drill 10 days later.