“The USS George Washington will exercise in the Yellow Sea, in the West Sea,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters.
“But I don’t have for you yet dates when that exercise involving that aircraft carrier will take place... Part of the sequence of exercises that we conduct will be a return of the George Washington, including exercising in the Yellow Sea.”
However, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the two militaries have not yet reached any clear decisions on when and where to deploy the aircraft carrier during the planned exercises.
China has repeatedly expressed its objections to the two allies’ drills near its coastal regions, which involve the 97,000-ton nuclear-powered carrier capable of gathering military intelligence within its operational range of 1,000 kilometers.
|The 97,000-ton aircraft carrier USS George Washington (Yonhap News)|
Apparently taking into account China’s objections, South Korea and the U.S. held a four-day joint maritime and air readiness exercise late last month in the East Sea, instead of the West Sea.
The two allies were widely expected to hold the exercise in the West Sea near the scene of the March naval disaster, which they hold North Korea responsible for. The North denies any role in the sinking that killed 46 sailors.
China, an increasingly assertive regional power, has in recent weeks staged a series of its own military exercises in the South China Sea, apparently in response to the joint exercises, which South Korea and the U.S. conducted and plan to conduct.
Meanwhile, the South Korean military continued an anti-submarine drill in the West Sea on the second day of the five-day maritime maneuvers aimed at enhancing its defense capabilities against North Korean provocations.
The military practiced sinking enemy submarines, and responding to coastal artillery fire. It also conducted a drill to deal with North Korean commandos, whose number is estimated at 180,000 and a drill to defend the islands near the western inter-Korean maritime border.
Some 4,500 people from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and maritime police are taking part in the exercise. The military has mobilized nearly 30 naval vessels, including the 14,000-ton amphibious landing ship Dokdo, 4,500-ton KDX-II class destroyers, and about 50 aircraft, including KF-16 fighter jets.
In related news, the U.S. Forces Korea abruptly postponed a planned meeting with local journalists without specifying the reason on Thursday.
Ahead of the Ulchi Freecom Guardian exercise, an annual joint exercise between the two allies scheduled to take place from Aug. 16-26, USFK Commander Gen. Walter Sharp planned to hold the meeting.
Reporters were angered as the postponement was the forth of its kind. Speculations were that Washington was apprehensive that such an event could upset China at a sensitive time.
Early this year, U.S. and China relations deteriorated after Washington decided on selling weapons worth more than $6 billion to Taiwan and allowing a visit to Washington by the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)