US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea to warn the North

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BUSAN, South Korea, September 23 (Reuters) – A U.S. aircraft carrier arrived in South Korea on Friday for the first time in about four years, ready to join other military ships in a show of force intended to send a message to North Korea.

The USS Ronald Reagan and the ships of its accompanying strike group have docked at a naval base in the southern port city of Busan ahead of joint exercises with South Korean forces.

His arrival marks the largest deployment yet in a new push to get more US “strategic assets” operating in the region to deter North Korea.

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Strike group commander Rear Admiral Michael Donnelly told reporters aboard the ship that the visit was designed to build allied relationships and build interoperability between navies.

“We leave the messages to the diplomats,” he said, when asked about any signals to North Korea, but added that joint exercises would ensure allies were able to respond to any threats.

“It’s an opportunity for us to practice tactics and operations,” Donnelly said.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has pushed for more joint drills and other displays of military might as a warning to North Korea, which has conducted a record number of missile tests this year and appears to be preparing to resume nuclear testing for the first time since 2017.

North Korea has denounced previous US military deployments and joint drills as war rehearsals and evidence of hostile Washington and Seoul policies. The drills have also sparked protests from peace activists who say they are increasing regional tensions.

Last week, the United States said the carrier’s visit was a “clear demonstration” of its commitment to deploying and exercising strategic assets to deter Pyongyang and bolster regional security.

In announcing the visit, however, the US Navy made no mention of North Korea, referring only to a “regular port visit” and emphasizing crew members visiting Busan to volunteer in orphanages and exploring the K-pop music scene.

Officials declined to provide details on upcoming joint exercises, but said the carrier would be in port for “several days”. Just hours after the ship docked, long lines of crew formed as they took COVID-19 tests before being bused into the city.

A crew member, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said he was looking forward to a break but geopolitical tensions were a constant presence.

“You can never really forget why we’re all here,” the crew member told Reuters.

This is the first visit to South Korea by a US aircraft carrier since 2018. Many exercises have since been reduced or canceled due to diplomatic efforts with North Korea or because of the COVID pandemic -19.

Visiting the aircraft carrier is useful for politically signaling, reassuring Seoul and training with South Korean forces, but likely does little to further deter North Korea, said Mason Richey, a professor at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.

“A visit by a carrier group certainly does little – in fact, it probably does the opposite – to discourage Pyongyang from developing more nuclear weapons and delivery systems, as well as conventional capabilities,” he said. -he declares.

It nevertheless underscores that under Yoon, the allies see closer military coordination and interoperability as the best way to deal with North Korea, Richey added.

Questions have arisen about the role the roughly 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea could play if conflict erupts in Taiwan.

Donnelly said these questions were for policymakers above him, but said operating with like-minded allies, such as South Korea, is a key part of the US Navy’s efforts to maintain the regional security and stability that has existed for more than seven decades.

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Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Gerry Doyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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