South Korea, US, Japan Hold anti-North Korea Submarine Drill

US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz approaches a naval base in Busan, South Korea, March 28, 2023. Yonhap via REUTERS
US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz approaches a naval base in Busan, South Korea, March 28, 2023. Yonhap via REUTERS
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South Korea, US, Japan Hold anti-North Korea Submarine Drill

US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz approaches a naval base in Busan, South Korea, March 28, 2023. Yonhap via REUTERS
US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz approaches a naval base in Busan, South Korea, March 28, 2023. Yonhap via REUTERS

The South Korean, US and Japanese navies began their first anti-submarine drills in six months on Monday to boost their coordination against increasing North Korean missile threats, South Korea’s military said.

The two-day drills come as North Korea’s recent unveiling of a type of battlefield nuclear warhead prompted worries the country may conduct its first nuclear test since 2017, The Associated Press said.

The maritime exercises in international waters off South Korea’s southern island of Jeju involved the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and naval destroyers from South Korea, the US and Japan, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The training was arranged to improve the three countries’ capacities to respond to underwater security threats posed by North Korea’s advancing submarine-launched ballistic missiles and other assets, the statement said. It said the three countries were to detect and track unmanned South Korean and US underwater vehicles posing as enemy submarines and other assets.

Submarine-launched missiles by North Korea are serious security threats to the United States and its allies because it’s harder to spot such launches in advance. In recent year, the North has been testing sophisticated underwater-launched ballistic missiles and pushing to build bigger submarines including a nuclear-powered one.

Last month, North Korea performed a barrage of missile tests in response to the earlier South Korea-US bilateral military drills. The weapons tested included a nuclear-capable underwater drone and a submarine-launched cruise missile, which suggest North Korea is trying to diversify its kinds of underwater weapons.

Photographs in North Korea's state media last week showed about 10 capsule-shaped, red-tipped warheads called “Hwasan (volcano)-31” with different serial numbers. A poster on a nearby wall listed eight kinds of short-range weapons that can carry the “Hwasan-31” warhead. The previous test flights of those weapons show they are capable of striking key targets in South Korea, including US military bases there.

Some observers say the warhead’s unveiling may be a prelude to a nuclear test as North Korea's last two tests in 2016 and 2017 followed the disclosures of other warheads. If it does conduct a nuclear test, it would be its seventh detonation overall and the first since September 2017.

Foreign experts debate whether North Korea has functioning nuclear-armed missiles. But South Korea’s defense minister, Lee Jong-Sup, recently said the North’s technology to build miniaturized warheads to be mounted on advanced short-range missiles was believed to have made considerable progress.

North Korea could carry out new missile tests in response to the South Korea-US-Japan drills because it views such training as a security threat. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called recent South Korea-US exercises “reckless military provocations” that disregarded North Korea's "patience and warning.”

In remarks carried in the Defense Ministry statement, Rear Adm. Kim Inho, chief of the South Korean forces involved in the trilateral drills, said “We’ll decisively respond to and neutralize any type of provocation by North Korea.”

In addition to anti-submarine drills, the three countries will practice humanitarian search-and-rescue operations, including saving people who fall into the water and treating emergency patients. It would be the three countries’ first such training in seven years, the Defense Ministry statement said.



Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Joe Biden holed up at his beach house Thursday, battling both a bout of COVID and calls by senior allies for him to abandon his 2024 reelection bid.

While rival Donald Trump prepared for his star turn at the Republican National Convention, the 81-year-old US president found himself in both personal and political isolation.

The top Democrats in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, both reportedly met with Biden in recent days to warn that his candidacy threatens his party's prospects in November's election.

Influential former House speaker Nancy Pelosi added to his woes by privately telling Biden he cannot win and could harm Democrats' chances of recapturing the lower chamber, CNN reported.

Several party figures were meanwhile quoted anonymously by the Axios news outlet as saying that they believed the pressure would persuade Biden to drop out as soon as this weekend.

Biden has insisted he is not backing down, adamant that he is the candidate who beat Trump before and will do it again this year. Pressed about reports that Biden might be softening to the idea of leaving the race, his deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said Thursday: “He is not wavering on anything.”

"He's staying in the race," Fulks told a press conference on the sidelines of the Republican convention in Milwaukee.

"Our campaign is not working through any scenarios where President Biden is not the top of the ticket -- he is and will be the Democratic nominee."

California Senator Alex Padilla said Biden was "not skipping a beat."

"I know having spoken to him personally he's committed to the campaign," he added.

Using mountains of data showing Biden’s standing could wipe out the ranks of Democrats in Congress, frank conversations in public and private, and now, the president’s own time off the campaign trail after testing positive for COVID-19, many Democrats see an opportunity to encourage a reassessment.

Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he was "doing well."

His COVID diagnosis however came at the worst possible time for his campaign, forcing him to cut short a trip to Las Vegas and isolate at his holiday home in Rehoboth, Delaware.

The split-screen with Trump could not have been more stark, with Trump set to formally accept the Republican nomination in Milwaukee.

US networks showed images of frail looking Biden gingerly descending the steps of Air Force One in Delaware, in a week when Trump is lauded by supporters each night at a packed party convention.

Former president Trump, who at 78 is just three years younger than Biden, is riding a wave of support from his party after surviving an assassination attempt on Saturday that left him with a bandaged ear.

The United States could now be approaching the climax of an extraordinary three weeks in politics, which started when Biden gave a disastrous performance during a televised debate with Trump.

Biden blamed jet lag and a cold, but the fact that America's commander-in-chief has now fallen ill for a second time just as fears grow about his fitness for the job has merely intensified the panic in Democratic ranks.