U.S. Navy Conducts Drill Close to North Korea
On Monday, the destroyer USS Spruance joined South Korean forces in the Sea of Japan for a joint naval exercise, the closest ever to North Korean waters, the U.S. Navy said.
U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Vincent Brooks said that the drill was a show of force in response to an increasingly aggressive North Korea.
The Spruance and her South Korean counterpart, the destroyer Yulgok YiYi, are armed with Lockheed Martin's Aegis system, which is capable of taking down ballistic missiles. It is the only afloat platform capable of countering a submarine launched nuclear strike – a threat which North Korea is increasingly keen to deploy.
In a statement, Vice Adm. Lee Ki-sik, commander of the Republic of Korea Fleet, said that "our ROK-US alliance will counter the North Korean nuclear development and SLBM threats with determination."
A South Korean helicopter went down during the drill, prompting a search and rescue response. Three soldiers were on board at the time of the incident.
Last week, the U.S. Air Force deployed two B-1B strategic bombers along the demilitarized zone between the Koreas, the closest pass ever to the border and the second in the region this month.
The maneuvers are in response to Pyongyang's continued nuclear testing program and its development of ballistic missile technology.
Chinese firm charged for violating nuclear sanctions
Separately, on Monday, the United States blacklisted Chinese firm Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Company Ltd. on charges that it had helped North Korea obtain compounds which are used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. In addition, the Justice Department is bringing criminal charges against the firm and four top officials, and is attempting to confiscate all funds in their bank accounts. The defendents are accused of fraudulently using the American banking system to conduct dollar-denominated transactions with Pyongyang.
Dandong is one of the six subsidiaries of Liaoning Honxiang Group. A report released last week by the Asian Institute for Policy Studies and the U.S. Center for Advanced Defense Studies raises concerns that the other firms within the group are also involved in banned transactions with North Korea.