US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea to warn North Korea

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BUSAN, South Korea, Sept 23 (Reuters) – A U.S. aircraft carrier arrived in South Korea on Friday for the first time in four years in a show of force meant to send a message to North Korea.

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

Its arrival marks the most important deployment under a new push for more U.S. “strategic assets” to operate in the region to deter North Korea.

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Rear Admiral Michael Donnelly, commander of the strike group, told reporters on board that the visit was designed to build friendly relations and increase interoperability between the navies.

“We are sending messages to diplomatic officials,” he said, when asked about any signal to North Korea, but added that joint exercises would ensure the allies respond to all threats.

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

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol offered further joint exercises and other military displays of force as a warning to North Korea, which has conducted a record number of missile tests this year and is preparing to resume nuclear tests for the first time. 2017.

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

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The US last week said the carrier’s arrival was a “clear demonstration” of its commitment to deploying and activating strategic assets to deter Pyongyang and improve regional security.

In announcing the visit, however, the U.S. Navy made no mention of North Korea, referring only to a “regularly scheduled port visit” and urging crew members visiting Busan to volunteer at orphanages and explore the K-pop music scene.

Officials declined to provide details of the upcoming joint exercises, but said the carrier will remain in port for “several days.” Hours after the ship docked, a long line of crew members formed as they underwent COVID-19 tests before being bussed into the city.

A team member, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said they expected a break but geopolitical tensions were a constant presence.

“You never forget what we’re all here for,” a team member told Reuters.

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

The carrier visit would be useful for political signaling, reassuring Seoul and training with South Korean forces, but would not deter North Korea further, said Mason Richey, a professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.

“A carrier group visit would certainly not do much — in fact, it would do the opposite — to discourage Pyongyang from developing more nuclear weapons and delivery systems and conventional capabilities,” he said.

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Still, it underscores that allies under Yun see tighter military coordination and interoperability as the best way to deal with North Korea, Richey added.

Questions have been raised about the role of the roughly 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea if conflict erupts over Taiwan.

Donnelly said he has similar questions for policymakers above him, but working with like-minded allies like South Korea has been a key part of the U.S. Navy’s efforts to maintain regional security and stability for more than seven decades.

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Report by Josh Smith; Editing by Lincoln Feist and Jerry Doyle

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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