September 8, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 10194

Chinese Media Outlet Washington Is 'Increasingly Using The Korean Peninsula Issue As A Card To Improve U.S. Strategic Interests In The Region'

September 8, 2022
China | Special Dispatch No. 10194

The Ulchi Freedom Shield joint U.S.-South Korea (ROK) military exercise was held August 22-September 1, 2022. The China Military Online wrote about it, stating: "The Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise originates in the U.S.-ROK Ulchi-Focus Lens annual exercise in 1975, which was later renamed Ulchi-Freedom Guardian. It is one of the three annual joint exercises alongside the Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, the last two having been canceled now. In June 2018, as a token of goodwill to DPRK, ROK and the U.S. decided to suspend large-scale military exercises and instead carry out smaller-scale and computer-simulated ones."

The article continued: "The resumption of large-scale bilateral military exercise after a five-year pause is a meaningful move made by the Yoon Suk-yeol administration on the military and defense front...tota Since Yoon Suk-yeol came in office, he has reinforced the country’s pro-America stance, actively pushed the deployment of the THAAD system, and tried to normalize the joint military exercise with the U.S. with a view to coping with the changing situation in Northeast Asia and the risks and challenges brought by the Russia-Ukraine conflict to the region. Following this thought, the Yoon Suk-yeol administration took resuming and expanding the Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise as an important way to rebuild the U.S.-ROK alliance and consolidate their common defense architecture."[1]

An article published August 22, 2022 by the Chinese media outlet titled "Pouring Fuel On The Fire Around China!" stated that these miliary exercises reveal that South Korea's policy toward North Korea is still "focused on applying pressure towards the North," and that the South wants "to change North's behavior through this intensified pressure." It added that in the past, the U.S. had hoped to work with China to resolve the North Korea issue, but that due to the conflict in Ukraine and the U.S.'s rivalry with China, Washington is "increasingly using the Korean Peninsula issue as a card to improve U.S. strategic interests in the region." The article concluded that China has always been clear in its opposition to these military exercises, labeling them a "major obstacle to the peaceful settlement of the peninsula issue."

Below are excerpts of the article:[2]

South Korean soldiers during the Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise. (Source:

'These Exercises Appear To Be Rehearsals For Military Actions Against North Korea'

"...As the United States and South Korea have formed a military alliance, the two allies have regularly held various joint military exercises for years. Although the United States and South Korea claim that 'their exercises are of a defensive nature', those of good sense can figure out the offensive elements of the drills.

"The reason that Pyongyang protests the U.S. and South Korean military exercises strongly is because these exercises appear to be rehearsals for military actions against North Korea.

"One of the main purposes of this year’s exercises, renamed 'Ulchi Freedom Shield', is to rebuild the U.S.-South Korean alliance and consolidate the common defense structure after more than four years of suspension.

"The joint military exercises started on August 22 are a major move in military defense taken by Yoon Suk-yeol after he came to office as the president.

"Tens of thousands of allied troops from the U.S. and South Korean militaries participate in the joint exercises dubbed 'Ulchi Freedom Shield', involving a broad range of land, air and sea assets. Moreover, these joint exercises also include live-fire drills…

"The exercises are staged at two phases.

"The first phase aims to simulate 'entering into a state of war, repelling North Korean attacks' and defending the Seoul metropolitan area. The second phase focuses on practicing counteroffensive and counterattack operations to ensure the safety of the greater capital region.

"Prior to the Ulchi Freedom Shield, South Korea and the United States conducted a four-day crisis management exercise starting on the 16th of this month. It was regarded as a preparatory exercise for this joint military drills.

"It is reported that the joint exercises will also train for drone attacks, cyber warfare and others, reflecting the new changes and development in warfare that emerged in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. It will also simulate enemy attacks on South Korean ports, airports, semiconductor factories and other major industrial facilities and key national infrastructure facilities. Its emphasis is on the implementation of protection, recovery and reconstruction drills that involve military-civilian response participated by civilians, officials, the militaries and the police.

"The second phase of the joint exercises will simultaneously conduct a computer-simulated command post exercise (CPX) and various joint field maneuver training exercises (FTX) which test the real wartime capabilities of the allied troops and each function.

"The South Korean and U.S. forces plan to conduct 13 types of tactical-level and practical field training exercises, or FTXs, including  brigade-level joint training involving a high-tech combat simulation system, battalion-level joint training for weapons of mass destruction elimination operations and small scale special warfare exchange joint operations. As a result, the joint exercises above the regiment level that had been suspended since 2018 are reinstated.

"In addition, South Korea and the U.S. also plan to conduct an assessment of the Full Operational Capability (FOC) of the future combined forces command during the exercises based on the plan of the conditional transfer of wartime operational control authority to South Korea…

"This time, the U.S. and South Korean militaries also claim that they will boost their surveillance and deterrence posture against North Korea 'to deal with the missile tests that North Korea may launch and other provocations during the joint exercises'. The South Korean government and military plan to master the crisis management capabilities and joint combat support procedures across all government departments through these joint exercises, thus improving the country's overall war execution capabilities in the face of a full-scale war…

'Various Actions By South Korea Instigated By The U.S. Are Bringing More And More Uncertainty To The Situation In Northeast Asia'

"Without any doubt, the scale and the intensity of this year’s U.S. and South Korean joint military exercises are much stronger than before, with enhanced targeting against North Korea.

"As a matter of fact, since Yoon Suk-yeol came to power, the government of South Korea has adopted a much tougher stance on North Korea policy than the previous administration, bluntly defining North Korea as an 'enemy'.

"Earlier, at a ceremony held on August 17 marking the 77th anniversary of the end of World War II and the end of Japanese colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula, Yoon Suk-yeol proposed that South Korea would ensure a 'sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula, in the Northeast Asia and the world' as long as North Korea was willing to denuclearize. And South Korea would also be willing to provide a series of economic assistance and support, including food production, energy infrastructure, port modernization, medical facilities and financial investment, etc.

"He referred to his plan as an 'audacious initiative'.

"North Korea viciously rejected the proposition by Yoon Suk-yeol.

"Kim Yo-jong, a Deputy Department Director of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, dismissed the 'audacious initiative' of denuclearization in exchange for investment as daydreaming in a speech.

"Meanwhile, she also blasted the South Korea as 'talking about ‘audacious initiative’ today but launching forcefully its exercises of invasion of the North tomorrow'.

"Because the South Korean military announced the news of U.S. and South Korean joint military exercises one day before Yoon Suk-yeol made his proposition of the so-called 'audacious initiative'.

"The North Korean state media Uriminzokkiri (Between Our Peoples) issues a statement on the day of the start of the joint military exercises, saying that while the South Korean and U.S. joint military exercises are being launched, a helping hand is extended to North Korea using economic assistance as a bait. This act is not only not an 'audacious initiative' but is more amounting to a 'two-sided tactic' of threats or mockery. If it continues to insist on it, South Korea will face greater threats sooner or later.

"On August 17th, North Korea conducted a weapons test at the 'Golden Star Bridge' in Onchon, South Pyongan Province.

"The missile test was conducted prior to the official start of the U.S. and South Korean joint military exercises, different from previous missile tests that were launched after the start of military exercises. It is considered a signal that the situation on the peninsula is getting worse.

"The situation on the (Korean) Peninsula is turbulent, and the South Korean people are highly disturbed by these 'unprecedented large-scale' South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises…

"Some analysts pointed out that in addition to dealing with North Korea, the United States also hopes to pull South Korea into its own small circle through these military exercises, hoping that South Korea can promise to confront China when the situation around Taiwan deteriorates.

"Last week, the South Korean military said that the process of the South Korean government's transfer of military land occupied by the THAAD anti-missile system to the U.S. military is expected to be completed by mid-September.

"The land which the U.S. military's THAAD base occupies in South Korea currently belongs to the South Korean military, and would be transferred to the U.S. military under the current agreement. According to the U.S.-South Korea Status of Forces Agreement, the deployment, operation and maintenance costs of THAAD are borne by the United States. South Korea is responsible for providing the base's land and supporting facilities such as water and electricity.

"The total area of the THAAD base is about 1.48 million square meters. The first land parcel transferred in April 2017 was 327,779 square meters, and the second land transfer has not yet been completed. In 2017, the Ministry of National Defense of South Korea disclosed that the area of the second transfer was about 370,000 square meters, and the two transfers totaled about 700,000 square meters.

"At present, because the anti-THAAD groups and local residents have blocked roads in protest, the transportation of U.S. troops and the supply of fuel and other materials needed for radar operation are currently relying on helicopter airlift.

"Road access to the base has been increased from two times a week under the previous government to five times a week. The current government plans to increase ground passages to seven times a week, to secure unfettered road access.

"South Korean authorities have repeatedly said that the government is trying to speed up the restoration of the THAAD anti-missile system to normal operation, and even set a goal of achieving normal operation around the end of August.

"Various actions by South Korea instigated by the United States are bringing more and more uncertainty to the situation in Northeast Asia.

'As For China, Its Government Has Always Been Clear On Its Opposition Towards Such Military Exercises'

"Why did the United States and South Korea resume large-scale joint military drills after a lapse of four years? Wang Junsheng, Director of the Department of China's Regional and Global Strategy of the National Institute of International Strategy of CASS, told Bu-Yi-Dao [the author of this article], that this has a lot to do with Yoon Suk-yeol’s dramatic changes from his predecessors’ policy toward North Korea after he came to power.

"Wang Junsheng believes that although the Yoon Suk-yeol government has previously announced various signals, such as 'bold vision,' COVID epidemic assistance, economic and trade, etc., the frequent joint military exercises of the United States and South Korea, and of the United States, Japan, and South Korea, are not only large in scale, but have included some offensive weapons such as the F-35. These reveal that Yoon’s policy toward North Korea is still focused on applying pressure towards the North, and the South wants to change North's behavior through this intensified pressure.

"In fact, the United States has always adhered to such a high-handed policy toward the DPRK in recent years. The same has always been the case with a Biden administration. In Washington's view, North Korea can be pressured to change its behavior on related issues.

"In foreign policy, the United States has always believed that it has strength to back up its demands. Apart from the influence of UN Security Council sanctions, epidemics, natural disasters, and other factors, military exercises are a pressure tool that Washington will not give up.

"Unlike the United States in the past, which hoped to work with China to resolve the North Korean issue, due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the U.S. competition with China, the United States is now increasingly using the Korean Peninsula issue as a card to improve U.S. strategic interests in the region. This can be seen from the fact that the U.S. media actively linked these military exercises to the situation in the Taiwan Strait.

"Wang Junsheng said that due to the policy of dialogue and reconciliation with the DPRK pursued by the Moon Jae-in government and the impact of the epidemic, the large-scale joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea had been suspended for some time. It is indeed a bit abrupt to restart joint military exercises now, so the United States has had to find an excuse. And this excuse is: 'North Korea may conduct a seventh nuclear test,' so it is necessary to increase the deterrence of North Korea through military exercises. This excuse is too far-fetched to be believed.

"In fact, regardless of whether North Korea conducts nuclear tests, the United States and South Korea will conduct such large-scale joint military exercises. All kinds of relevant news items we have seen so far are from the United States, and we have no way of knowing how reliable they are.

"In Wang Junsheng's view, the impact of the joint military drills on the peninsula is undoubtedly destructive. Blindly showing strength will inevitably lead to further escalation of tension, intensifying mutual suspicion between the two sides on the peninsula, and starting a new round of the vicious cycle of tension. The end result is that the security interests of the North and the South are damaged, but the United States continues to reap geopolitical gains from it.

"In fact, some experts on international affairs have long pointed out that this kind of routine and systematic military exercises is not based in any consideration for peace and stability on the peninsula, or even meant to make South Korea more secure. The 'security paradox' can only be solved by enhancing mutual trust, and blindly strengthening the U.S.-ROK joint military exercises can only worsen the existing 'security dilemma.'

"However, South Korea's conservatives apparently still have illusions about enhancing a 'sense of security' through military exercises. For example, South Korea's newspaper World Daily’s editorial on August 22nd stated that the Ulchi Freedom Shield is of great significance to the 'normalization' of the South Korea-U.S. joint exercises that have been 'in an abnormal state' since 2018. The military is an organization that prepares for actual combat, and the South Korea-U.S. joint military drills 'should no longer be a card for negotiating with North Korea.' It is no exaggeration to say that the suspension of the actual combat drills is an act of 'undermining security' which not only weakens the South Korea-U.S. alliance, but also obscures the basis for the existence of the U.S. military stationed in South Korea.

"In this regard, Wang Junsheng said that past experience has proved time and time again that only wanting to use this kind of joint military exercises to pressure the other side is precisely one of the reasons why the conservative government has always hit a wall in its policy toward North Korea.

"Instead of enhancing South Korea's so-called 'sense of security,' such joint military exercises have instead plunged South Korea into new security anxiety and tension on the Peninsula.

"As for China, its government has always been clear on its opposition towards such military exercises, mainly because they have become a major obstacle to the peaceful settlement of the peninsula issue."


[1], August 29, 2022.

[2], August 22, 2022.

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