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DPRK unlikely to pull plug on reunions, observers say

Author: Silver Editor Source: China DailyTime :2014-10-27 13:37:28

Seoul and Washington said on Monday they will begin joint military drills in late February, overlapping with planned reunions between families from the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. 

Although the DPRK has long opposed the US-ROK joint drill, it may not cancel the humanitarian project in protest because it needs to improve its international reputation, analysts said. 

The US-ROK Combined Forces Command announced that the ROK and its ally the United States will begin their annual joint drills - dubbed Key Resolve and Foal Eagle - as planned on Feb 24, Yonhap News Agency reported on Monday. 

The announcement comes as the two neighbors on the Korean Peninsula are trying to arrange reunions of families separated during the Korean War (1950-53) at the DPRK's Mount Kumgang resort from Feb 20 to 25. 

"Pyongyang is unlikely to cancel the reunion event even though it does not expect Washington and Seoul to cancel their joint exercises," said Wang Junsheng, a researcher on East Asian studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 

"Pyongyang knows that it will further harm its international reputation if it were to cancel the family reunions at this time. For them, improving their international reputation is more urgent." 

On Wednesday, Seoul and Pyongyang settled the reunions' date. One day later, Pyongyang announced that it might reconsider the deal and urged Seoul and Washington to cancel the military drills. 

But ROK President Park Geun-hye and other leaders urged the DPRK to support the reunions for humanitarian reasons. 

On Friday, Pyongyang told Seoul that it will keep the event but reduce the number of family members to 94. 

"The DPRK has learned from past experience that confronting the US and the ROK with hard stances will not bring benefits," said Shi Yongming, a researcher at the China Institute of International Relations. 

"The DPRK does have the concern that Seoul and Washington may make some moves to threaten its security through the drills. But it may not show its objection by actually canceling the reunions this time." 

Instead, Shi said, Pyongyang began to use a "softer tactic" by supporting the humanitarian event. 

"It is imposing a rather flexible policy toward the US and the ROK," Shi said, adding that it's not likely that the drills will increase international tensions. 

According to ROK Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok, Key Resolve will be conducted from Feb 24 to March 6. About 5,200 US troops will participate in the drill - more than last year's US participation of 3,500. 

The Foal Eagle field training exercise will be staged from Feb 24 to April 18, Kim said, noting that about 7,500 US forces will join in, substantially fewer than last year's 10,000. 

So far, the DPRK has not responded to the Monday announcement. 

Although the ROK pointed out that the military drill takes place annually and is intended to verify the defense capabilities of the combined forces of the ROK and US, the DPRK has long objected. 

Last week, Pyongyang lashed out at the US for flying a B-52 bomber over the peninsula. 

Kim said that the DPRK was notified of the drill schedules on Sunday morning through the United Nations Command. He added that the ministry will inform neighboring countries of the schedules on Monday. 

AFP contributed to this story. 

DPRK unlikely to pull plug on reunions, observers say