War games cast shadow on fragile peninsula peace
Published: Aug 29, 2018 10:33 PM

The US may resume large joint military exercises with South Korea that were "indefinitely" suspended two months ago, Defense Secretary James Mattis hinted on Tuesday. "We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises," Mattis told a Pentagon news conference.

It's been widely interpreted that the defense secretary was tactically pressuring Pyongyang to yield to Washington's demands in the nuclear negotiations. Some forces, both within the US and South Korea, have never given up their efforts to restart war games.

The Trump administration's decision to halt military exercises with South Korea has been criticized as a premature concession to North Korea. In South Korea, pro-US forces hope to further cement the US-South Korea alliance by resuming the joint drills.

Since 1953, Washington and Seoul have held large military exercises every year, which met fierce objections from Pyongyang. The Max Thunder drills by the South Korean and US Air Force held this spring so unnerved Pyongyang that it nearly called off the scheduled Kim-Trump summit.

That Trump suspended the joint drills with South Korea after his historic meeting with Kim has been considered a big step in stabilizing and improving the situation on the peninsula. Should the halted games restart, the situation will be reversed, which is in the interest of no party.  

Many have benefited from the easing peninsula situation. Earlier this month, dozens of families from North and South Korea divided by war reunited for the first time in at least 65 years. China and South Korea are resuming cooperative meetings between their regional governments, with the 15th South Korea-China local governmental exchange meeting beginning in Yinchuan, Ningxia on Wednesday. It's noticeable that the détente is fragile.

Take China-South Korea relations: There are growing signs of a recovery of bilateral ties, but as long as the problem of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is not solved, it will always be one of the points of contention between China and South Korea and the bilateral relationship will never recover to the pre-THAAD level until the missile system is removed from South Korea. If US-South Korea military drills resume, they will augment differences between China and South Korea, scuttling the recovery of bilateral relations.

The US is ratcheting up pressure on China over the Taiwan question and the South China Sea issue. If the Korean Peninsula situation worsens again, China's strategic security interests will be further in jeopardy. South Korea, as an ally of the US, will have to obey the strategic demands of the US to contain China. China should be vigilant.

The current détente on the Korean Peninsula is hard-won. Washington shouldn't render all the recent peace efforts in vain.

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