South Korean and U.S. troops began large-scale military exercises today in an annual test of their defences against North Korea.
Seoul said the exercises would be the largest ever following Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test and a rocket launch last month that triggered a U.N. Security Council resolution and tough new sanctions.
Kim Jong Un had earlier issued its latest belligerent threat, warning of a ‘pre-emptive nuclear strike of justice’ if the drills went ahead.
The joint U.S. and South Korean military command said it notified North Korea of ‘the non-provocative nature of this training’ involving 17,000 American troops and 300,000 South Koreans.
South Korea’s Defence Ministry said it had seen no sign of any unusual military activity by the North.
North Korea’s National Defence Commission said the North Korean army and people would ‘realise the greatest desire of the Korean nation through a sacred war of justice for reunification’ in response to any attack by U.S. and South Korean forces.
‘The army and people of the DPRK will launch an all-out offensive to decisively counter the U.S. and its followers’ hysterical nuclear war moves,’ the North Korean commission said in a statement carried by the North’s KCNA news agency.
Such threats have been a staple of the young North Korean leader since he took power after his dictator father’s death in December 2011.
But they spike especially when Washington and Seoul stage what they call annual defensive springtime war games.
Pyongyang says the drills, which run through to the end of April, are invasion rehearsals.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei noted that North Korea had already said it opposed the drills, adding that Beijing was ‘deeply concerned’ about the exercises.
‘China is linked to the Korean Peninsula. In terms of the peninsula’s security, China is deeply concerned and firmly opposed to any trouble-making behaviour on the peninsula’s doorstep.
‘We urge all sides to keep calm, exercise restraint and not escalate tensions,’ he told a daily news briefing.
The latest U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea were drafted by the United States and China as punishment for its nuclear test and satellite launch, which the United States and others say was really a test of ballistic missile technology.
South Korea’s spy agency said it would hold an emergency cyber-security meeting on Tuesday to check readiness against any threat of cyber attack from the North, after detecting evidence of attempts by the North to hack into South Korean mobile phones.
South Korea has been on heightened cyber alert since the nuclear test and the rocket launch.
South Korea and the U.S. militaries began talks on Friday on the deployment of an advanced anti-missile Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in South Korea.
This article originally appeared on Daily Mail.