By Alex Jensen
SEOUL (AA) - South Korea will go ahead with spring military drills alongside the United States despite North Korean opposition, Seoul's Defense Ministry stated Tuesday.
The annual exercises, regularly denounced by the North as war preparations, have already been delayed until after the March 18 closing of the Winter Paralympics.
Pyongyang has also refrained from missile testing so far this year, and inter-Korean relations have seen a dramatic improvement on the occasion of the South hosting the Winter Games since February 9.
Following statements of willingness from both sides, the Koreas ended years of tensions by cooperating to form a unified Olympic team for the women's ice hockey event, while North Korean leader Kim Jong-un dispatched a high-level delegation to the opening ceremony -- including his sister Kim Yo-jong, who on behalf of her brother invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang.
However, it remains to be seen whether Moon will accept the proposal as he stressed last weekend the North should also engage in dialogue with the U.S. -- a prospect that could become less likely when allied military drills resume.
With the start date for the large-scale exercises yet to be confirmed, Seoul's Defense Ministry reported to lawmakers Tuesday that South Korea and the U.S. will conduct their spring Key Resolve manoeuvres to defend against the North's missile threat, according to Yonhap News Agency.
The atmosphere on the peninsula could come under further strain due to the pending arrival of American drones capable of precisely attacking North Korea's leadership and missile launch sites.
Local daily the Chosun Ilbo reported Tuesday that twelve Gray Eagle/MQ-1Cs will be deployed at an air base in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province by April.
China looks set to be angered by the move in addition to the North, having already expressed concerns about drones as well as South Korea's deployment of a THAAD missile defense battery last year. Beijing has complained such technologies could be used for spying.