All national dailies reported extensively on the decision made by the U.S. and South Korea to terminate their two major joint exercises, attributing it to President Trump’s desire to cut military spending and ease tensions with North Korea. Mainichi contended that by canceling the annual drills to which North Korea has customarily reacted very strongly, Washington and Seoul chose to maintain dialogue with the Kim regime with the goal of achieving denuclearization. Yomiuri conjectured that by ordering the termination, the President was eager to highlight “détente on the Korean Peninsula” as a major diplomatic achievement in the absence of tangible progress on denuclearization. According to Asahi, the Key Resolve exercise will be transformed into an “alliance drill” focusing on a tabletop exercise intended to forestall attacks by North Korea. A drill for launching counterattacks against the DPRK will not take place. The Foal Eagle exercise will be replaced with a small-scale drill designed to prepare the two militaries for dealing with a localized war.
All dailies noted that the discontinuation of the key military exercises has raised concern among security experts about a decline in the military readiness of the two armed forces due to a lack of training opportunities, speculating that fewer U.S. aircraft carriers and strategic bombers will deploy to the Korean Peninsula as a result. They also voiced apprehension that the termination will eventually lead to a decision by the Trump administration to reduce U.S. troops in South Korea. The papers reported that Japanese defense officials are alarmed by the cancellation, with Asahi quoting one of them as saying: “The U.S. and South Korea might reduce the military pressure on North Korea while the nuclear and missile threats to Japan remain unaddressed.” Yomiuri opined that the regional military balance could be upset if the U.S. and South Korea continue to ease the military pressure while North Korea’s denuclearization remains stalled. A retired MSDF admiral reportedly said U.S.-ROK military coordination would be disrupted if large-scale joint exercises were not held for more than three years.
Sankei explained that some U.S. security analysts are displeased that Seoul has failed to respond to North Korea’s military threats by itself, asserting that South Korea can no longer be regarded as a reliable security partner. Nikkei conjectured that since the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula is intended to keep China in check, Beijing may urge the Kim regime to step up its demands for Washington to reduce its troops in South Korea. The daily also contended that President Trump may be tempted to scale back the U.S. military presence in Japan in the future if Tokyo turns down his request to shoulder a greater share of the cost of U.S. troops. While highlighting a comment by an unnamed senior Defense Ministry official, who projected that the two exercises will be resurrected if U.S.-DPRK denuclearization talks are derailed, Mainichi said the GOJ is set to ask the USG to remain engaged in Northeast Asia.