Civic activists express concern that show of military might could provoke North Korea
At 9 am on May 11, the USS Nimitz, an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in, docked at the naval operational command in Busan, seeming to send a silent but strong message. The huge size of the 101,600-ton USS Nimitz dwarfed the nearby ROKS Dokdo (14,500 tons), the amphibious assault ship, which is the pride of the Korean navy, and the ROKS Sejong the Great (7,650 tons), a guided missile destroyer which is the first Korean naval vessel to employ the AEGIS system. Waiting on the deck of the aircraft carrier with their wings folded and basking in the spring sunlight were dozens of Hornets and Super Hornets (F/A-18E/F), the US standard carrier-based multi-role aircrafts.
While the US navy did not confirm that the USS Nimitz had docked in Busan until a few days ago, once the behemoth showed up in the harbor there was no way they could have hidden it. The massive aircraft carrier could be seen at a glance from the SK View Apartments on Oryuk Island, which is located to the northeast of the naval command, and from the square in front of Ever Light Church, which is on a hill overlooking the command. The carrier’s entry to the harbor, which shows the carrier at its most impressive, appears to represent a US demonstration of its power.
As if to maximize the effect, Rear Admiral Michael White, commander of the Nimitz Strike Group, convened a press conference immediately after the carrier entered the harbor in which he emphasized the importance of the 60-year alliance between the US and South Korea.
In response to a reporter who asked if they expected any backlash from North Korea, White said the drills were “not a response to any particular event.”
“We exercise routinely with South Korea, so we continue to hope it shows our alliance to promote peace and prosperity in the region,” White said.
The remarks are believed to confirm that the US dispatched the carrier as a sign of good faith in response to South Korean requests that the US present a clearer and expanded deterrent to North Korean nuclear threats.
With the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which operates out of the Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan, undergoing six-months of maintenance, the USS Nimitz had to make the long journey to Busan from Naval Station Everett in the state of Washington on the US mainland. Starting on May 13, the USS Nimitz and the rest of the carrier group are planning to carry out various exercises in the waters to the east and south of the Korean peninsula, including naval maneuvers, observation, and disaster relief.
As expected, North Korea countered with strident criticism. Criticizing the USS Nimitz’ arrival in Busan, the North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland (CPRF) said, “This is patent intimidation and blackmail of North Korea, and it is a grave military provocation intended to create the risk of a nuclear war of aggression against North Korea on the Korean peninsula.”
North Korea’s criticism suggests that, in contrast to predictions that talks between the two Koreas would resume after the May 7 Washington summit between the US and South Korea, the military tensions on the Korean peninsula will be with us for a while longer.
“This seems to make it clear that the US and South Korea are not planning to beg for or rush into dialogue with North Korea,” said Kim Jong-dae, editor of Defense 21+. “If they keep this up, North Korea could make more threats about launching missiles around the end of May.”
On the afternoon of May 11, 26 members of a Busan civic organization for peace that had blocked the road in front of the naval operational command and were carrying out a protest demanding the end of US-ROK joint military exercises were taken to a police station for questioning. The police said that they are planning to consult with the prosecution about whether or not to prosecute them.