President Donald Trump published a statement from the White House Wednesday asserting that he does not believe that there is a good reason “at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games,” as his relationship with dictator Kim Jong-un is “a very good and warm one.”
The statement follows confirmation from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis that the Pentagon has no plans to cancel any more joint military exercises with South Korea in the future, which it had done prior to President Trump’s meeting with Kim in Singapore in June as a “good faith gesture.”
Washington does not have any military exercises scheduled with South Korea until next February, leaving plenty of time for denuclearization negotiations to continue and for the Pentagon to make an ultimate decision regarding the exercises.
President Trump’s statement, posted on Twitter, also directly accused China of placing “tremendous pressure” on the communist dictatorship to step away from dialogue with the United States to punish the Trump administration for its economic policies against China:
STATEMENT FROM THE WHITE HOUSE
President Donald J. Trump feels strongly that North Korea is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese Government. At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2018
The statement goes on to read that North Korea is receiving “considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities” from China, adding, “This is not helpful!” North Korea is currently under an unprecedented international sanctions regime meant to limit the ability of the Kim regime to invest in its illegal nuclear weapons program. Studies and intelligence reports have repeatedly shown that China, along with other rogue state actors like Russia, has violated the sanctions by continuing to do business with North Korea.
“Nonetheless, the President believes that his relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good and warm one, and there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games,” Trump’s statement continued. “Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before.”
Trump concluded his remarks by complimenting “China’s great President Xi Jinping” and asserting that “their relationship and bond remain very strong.”
Trump’s remark that he sees “no need” for more military exercises with South Korea in the near future follows Mattis’s asserting that the Pentagon has no plans to cancel such exercises again after having done so at the beginning of the year. Mattis did not explicitly say that future exercises would occur, however, only that the Pentagon would evaluate whether to cancel them closer to when they are expected to occur and currently has no plans for cancellation.
“We took the step to suspend several of the largest military exercises as a good faith measure. We have no plans to suspend any more,” Mattis told reporters. “We are going to see how the negotiations go, and then we will calculate the future, how we go forward.”
Mattis noted that “routine training” for American troops in Korea has continued, and only three military exercises were canceled in anticipation of the Trump-Kim talks.
Mattis added that whether the exercises occur is largely in the hands of diplomats, particularly top diplomat Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo was scheduled to visit Pyongyang this week, until President Trump canceled the visit, stating, “I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Trump once again blamed China for interfering in bilateral diplomacy in that instance and suggested that such a diplomatic visit could be rescheduled once talks progress.
The United States and South Korea last held major military exercises in April – the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises typically occurring in February. The exercises happened several months late to accommodate the 2018 Winter Olympics taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea, this year. By June, the Pentagon announced it had canceled upcoming military exercises indefinitely in the wake of Kim and Trump’s agreement to meet in person that month.
North Korea’s regime has not yet responded to the remarks surrounding the joint military exercises, which typically prepare soldiers for a scenario in which an invasion of North Korea is necessary. Instead, North Korean state media have insisted that the United States continues to execute military exercises in secret, condemning an alleged joint exercise with Japan that occurred in the Philippines this weekend. American officials have not been able to confirm the exercise happened, nor does independent evidence of such an exercise exist.
“This an extremely provocative and risky military move to chill the hard-won atmosphere of peace and dialogue on the Korean peninsula and the efforts for implementing the Singapore DPRK-U.S. joint statement,” North Korean state media said of the alleged exercise. “The secret drills staged by the U.S. special operation units are just good-for-nothing military moves that will never help the development of the DPRK-U.S. relations.”