WASHINGTON – The U.S. and South Korea likely will forge ahead with joint military exercises in the Yellow Sea despite China's objections, a Pentagon official said Wednesday.
The air and naval exercises, which had been delayed, are poised for approval at a meeting next week in Seoul between Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and their South Korean counterparts, Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell said.
Once details are finalized, the exercises would start in the near future and involve a wide range of military ships and other assets, Morrell said, but he did not specify a date or which ships would participate. He said the drill would involve both the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan.
China has voiced concerns that the military training in the Yellow Sea could inflame tensions on the Korean peninsula, especially if it involves the USS George Washington, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
Asked about China's objections, Morrell said this is "a matter of our ability to exercise in open seas, in international waters. Those determinations are made by us and us alone."
U.S. and South Korean officials planned the drill in response to North Korea's alleged sinking of a South Korean warship in March. The exercise was delayed until after the United Nations weighed in on the deadly attack, which killed 46 sailors.
South Korea had wanted the U.N. Security Council to condemn the North. But China, the North's closest ally and a veto-wielding council member, opposed direct condemnation.
The council condemned the attack and pointed a finger toward North Korea but didn't directly blame the reclusive communist nation.