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South Korea scraps drill amid diplomacy with North

South Korea says it is canceling an annual government mobilization drill this year as part of a suspended joint exercise with the United States but would hold a version of that drill later on its own.

The suspension of the drill was announced by the South Korean ministers of safety and defense at a media briefing on Tuesday.

The drill, dubbed Ulchi, is usually held in August every year in tandem with the joint, so-called Freedom Guardian military exercise with the US.

The cancellation this year is believed to facilitate fledgling diplomacy with arch-rival North Korea.

The South Korean ministers, however, said South Korea would individually conduct a model of the Ulchi drill aimed at practicing fighting militancy and large-scale natural disasters within the framework of a larger, planned exercise later in October.

“Our military will carry out planned standalone drills this year and decide on joint exercises through close consultations with the United States,” said Defense Minister Song Young-moo.

In June, the US and South Korea said they would suspend their joint “large-scale” military drills. That suspension came after US President Donald Trump said joint exercises with North Korea’s regional nemeses — including South Korea and Japan — would be “provocative” while pursuing diplomacy with Pyongyang. Trump made the remark shortly after a historical summit between him and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12.

The annual drills have in the past been a major irritant to North Korea but have also been considered by Seoul and Tokyo as a bulwark against perceived North Korean aggression.

Diplomacy began in January, when Kim unexpectedly expressed interest in the betterment of relations with Seoul. Later, the US, too, diplomatically engaged Pyongyang, most prominently with the Singapore summit.

Subsequent diplomacy between the US and North Korea, while still ongoing, seems to have been less successful, however.

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