South Korea is considering conducting maritime defense drills on and around its easternmost islets of Dokdo later this month, military sources said Monday, far behind its usual schedule amid ongoing diplomatic and trade disputes with Japan.
The military "plans to stage the drills at an appropriate time," defense ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo told a regular briefing Monday, adding the authorities are reviewing "the exact schedule and scale."
The drills, involving the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard, have been held twice a year, usually in June and Dec., to better fend off possible foreign infiltrations to the rocky outcroppings and the surrounding waters.
After several weeks of its postponement amid an escalating row with Japan, this year's drills were highly expected to be launched this week ahead of the Aug. 15 Liberation Day that marks Korea's independence from Japan's colonial rule in 1945.
South Korea has maintained effective control of the nation's easternmost islets with a small police detachment since their liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945. Japan has persistently laid claim to Dokdo, drawing strong condemnations from the Seoul government.
"Weather conditions this week do not seem to be very favorable for such drills with typhoons approaching," a military source said.
"The military has been preparing for the drills, which are just regular ones, and the authorities will make a decision on the timing and other details by taking diverse related factors into consideration," he added.
As South Korea is also now conducting a combined exercise with the United States, which is to last until Aug. 20, the Dokdo defense drills may take place after that, according to another source.
Last week, Chung Eui-yong, who leads the presidential National Security Office, said during a parliamentary session that the drills are to be staged on a larger scale, compared with previous ones, by involving armed forces from the Army and the Air Force.
The Seoul-Tokyo ties have plunged to the lowest ebb recently after Japan's expanded export curbs on South Korea earlier this month, following the first such moves on July 4, in apparent retaliation for the South Korean Supreme Court's rulings ordering Japanese firms to compensate Korean victims of wartime forced labor.
South Korea launched the Dokdo drills in 1986. Last year, the drills took place for two days in both June and Dec. (Yonhap)