The United States, Japan and South Korea began a joint missile tracking drill Monday as tensions in Asia continue to rise over North Korea’s fast-developing weapons programs, the Maritime Self-Defense Force said.
In the two-day exercise, four Aegis-equipped destroyers from the three countries, including the MSDF’s Chokai, will detect and track computer-simulated missiles and share related information.
The U.S. and South Korea conducted large-scale military drills last week that the North said made the outbreak of war “an established fact.”
North Korea has fired missiles over Japan as it pursues nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in defiance of U.N. sanctions and international condemnation. On Nov. 29, it test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile which it said was its most advanced yet, capable of reaching the mainland United States.
This week’s exercises will be the sixth set of drills sharing information in tracking ballistic missiles among the three nations, the MSDF said.
It did not say whether the controversial THAAD system will be involved. Installation of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense in South Korea has angered China, which fears its powerful radar could look deep into China and threaten its own security.
North Korea’s missile test last month prompted a U.S. warning that North Korea’s leadership will be “utterly destroyed” if war breaks out. The Pentagon has mounted repeated shows of force after North Korea has carried out tests.
As part of international efforts to staunch the flow of illegal cash transfers into North Korea that could fund its weapons programs, the United States has also pressured China and other nations to cut trade and diplomatic ties with the isolated country.
On Sunday, South Korea said it will impose new unilateral sanctions on 20 institutions and a dozen individuals in North Korea, barring any financial transactions between those sanctioned and any South Koreans.
“This unilateral sanction will prevent illegal funds flowing to North Korea and contribute to reinforce international communities’ sanctions against North Korea,” South Korea’s Finance Ministry said in a statement.
The move is largely symbolic as trade and financial exchanges between the two Koreas have been barred since May 2010 following the torpedoing of a South Korean warship, which the North denied.
North Korea regularly threatens to destroy South Korea, Japan and the United States and says its weapons programs are necessary to counter U.S. aggression.
Some 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.