A US aircraft carrier arrived in South Korea on Friday for the first time in about four years, set to join other military vessels in a show of force intended to send a message to North Korea, officials reported.
USS Ronald Reagan and ships from its accompanying strike group docked at a naval base in the southern port city of Busan.
The carrier’s arrival marks the most significant deployment yet under a new push to have more US “strategic assets” operate in the area to deter North Korea.
The US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan arriving this morning at a naval base in the South Korean city of Busan. First visit by a US carrier since 2018, and what officials say is a warning to North Korea pic.twitter.com/gdCS4PNmK2
— Josh Smith (@joshjonsmith) September 22, 2022
Rear Admiral Michael Donnelly, strike group commander, told reporters aboard the ship that the visit had been long planned and was designed to build relations with South Korean allies and boost interoperability between the navies.
“We are leaving messaging to diplomats,” he said, when asked about any signal to North Korea, but added that joint drills were designed to ensure the allies were able to respond to threats anywhere at any time.
“It is an opportunity for us to practice tactics and operations,” he explained.
First such visit in four years
The visit is the first to South Korea by an American aircraft carrier since 2018. Back then, the allies scaled back many of their joint military activities amid diplomatic efforts to engage with North Korea, but those talks have since stalled, and Pyongyang this month unveiled an updated law codifying its right to conduct first-use nuclear strikes to protect itself.
Japan-based US carrier RONALD REAGAN CVN76, cruiser CHANCELLORSVILLE CG62 and destroyer BARRY DDG52 arrived at Busan, Rep of #Korea 23 Sept. Destroyer BENFOLD DDG65 also arrived at Chinhae ROK. 4 yrs since Ronnie was in the ROK, largely due to the pandemic https://t.co/grUIkPZeGi pic.twitter.com/2UOmiT6Hsb
— Chris Cavas (@CavasShips) September 23, 2022
Questions have risen over the role the roughly 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea might play if conflict erupts over Taiwan.
Mr Donnelly said such questions are for policymakers above him, but said that operating with like-minded allies such as South Korea is a key part of the US Navy’s efforts to maintain the regional security and stability that has existed for more than seven decades.
Korea in favour of more joint drills
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has pushed for more joint exercises and other displays of military power as a warning to North Korea, which this year conducted a record number of missile tests after talks failed to persuade it to end its nuclear weapons and missile development.
According to some observers, Pyongyang appears to be preparing to resume nuclear testing for the first time since 2017.
North Korea has denounced previous US military deployments and joint drills as rehearsals for war and proof of hostile policies by Washington and Seoul.