US Aircraft Carrier in South Korea Amid North’s Russia Ties

A US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, has arrived in South Korea on Thursday as a show of force against North Korea, which has been strengthening its ties with Russia. The carrier and its battle group came to the port of Busan after participating in a maritime exercise with South Korea and Japan earlier this week.

US Aircraft

US-South Korea Alliance

The USS Ronald Reagan is part of a bilateral agreement to enhance the visibility of US strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula in response to North Korea’s advancing nuclear program, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry. It is the first arrival of a US aircraft carrier in South Korea in six months since the USS Nimitz docked at Busan in late March.

The US and South Korea have been allies since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty. The two countries maintain close military cooperation and conduct joint exercises regularly to deter North Korean aggression. The US has about 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea.

North Korea-Russia Relations

The arrival of the USS Ronald Reagan is expected to enrage North Korea, which views the deployment of such a powerful US military asset as a major security threat. When the USS Ronald Reagan staged joint military drills with South Korean forces off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast in October 2022, North Korea said the carrier’s deployment was causing “considerably huge negative splash” in regional security and performed ballistic missile tests.

The US carrier’s latest arrival comes as concerns grow that North Korea is pushing to get sophisticated weapons technologies from Russia in exchange for supplying ammunitions to refill Russia’s conventional arms stores exhausted by its protracted war with Ukraine. Such concerns flared after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited Russia’s Far East last month to meet President Vladimir Putin and inspect key weapons-making facilities.

Many experts say Kim would want Russian help to build more reliable weapons systems targeting the US and South Korea. Washington and Seoul have warned that Moscow and Pyongyang would pay a price if they move ahead with the speculated weapons transfer deal in breach of UN Security Council resolutions that ban any weapons trading with North Korea.

On Thursday, Kim and Putin exchanged messages marking 75 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries. In his message to Putin, Kim said he was “very satisfied” over “an exchange of candid and comprehensive opinions” with Putin during his Russia trip, while expressing a firm belief that bilateral ties will develop onto a new level. Kim also hoped that the Russian people would defeat “the imperialists’ persistent hegemonic policy and moves to isolate and stifle Russia”, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

Putin, for his part, told Kim in his message that he was satisfied with the fact that bilateral ties continue to positively develop in all aspects, KCNA said.

Regional Implications

The US aircraft carrier’s presence in South Korea is likely to raise tensions in the region, where China and Japan are also vying for influence and security. China, North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, has been wary of the US military activities near its borders and has opposed the deployment of a US missile defense system in South Korea.

Japan, on the other hand, has been enhancing its defense capabilities and cooperation with the US and other allies amid growing threats from North Korea and China. Japan hosted the trilateral maritime exercise with the US and South Korea this week, which involved anti-submarine warfare drills and other maneuvers.

The US has been seeking to maintain its strategic dominance and alliances in Asia-Pacific amid China’s rise and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The US has also been urging North Korea to return to the stalled denuclearization talks, which have made little progress since the collapse of the second summit between Kim and former President Donald Trump in 2019.

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