US, South Korea Begin Annual Military Drill, Despite Threats from Pyongyang
South Korea and the United States have begun their annual joint military exercise under the threat of military retaliation by North Korea.
About 25,000 U.S. forces and 50,000 South Korean troops are involved in the two-week Operation Ulchi Freedom exercise, which is largely simulated. The annual drills routinely anger Pyongyang, which says it sees the drills as a rehearsal for a full-scale invasion of the North, despite insistence by Seoul and Washington that the drills are purely defensive in nature.
A statement issued Monday by the North's military said its first-strike units were ready to turn the U.S. and Washington "into a heap of ashes through a Korean-style preemptive nuclear strike," if North Korea's sovereignty is threatened.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have worsened in recent months, with North Korea under harsh U.N. sanctions over a series of tests of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Relations are also likely aggravated by the recent defection of a high-ranking diplomat, Thae Yong Ho; Pyongyang's deputy ambassador to Britain. The North denounced Thae as "human scum" and accused him of a number of criminal acts, including child molestation.
South Korean President Park Guen-hye told her National Security Council Monday that Thae's defection was a sign of "serious cracks" in North Korea's ruling elites.
U.S. Woman Sentenced in Plot to Smuggle Military Jet Engines to China
Before Wenxia Man was arrested for attempting to broker the $50 million sale of military equipment to the Chinese government, she knew the risks.
In conversations with an undercover federal agent posing as a dealer, the California woman admitted she knew smuggling three jet engines and a drone out of the U.S. would be illegal, according to federal court documents.
Yet she pressed on, communicating with the fake dealer and a Chinese "technology spy," Xinsheng Zhang, who was acting as an official agent for the Chinese government to import military equipment and technical data, authorities said.
Now Man, a 45 year-old married mother of two young children and vice president of a tech parts company in San Diego who also goes by the name Wency, will serve out a 50-month sentence for her role in the plot. A judge handed down the ruling in a south Florida U.S. district court last week.
Man stood to receive a $1 million commission on the deal if it had gone, but nearly year-long discussions stalled in 2013.
The U.S. has had an arms embargo against China since 1990; no defense items can be sold or transferred to the country without written government approval, and Man wasn't a registered broker. Man was arrested in September 2015 and pleaded not guilty to federal charges of Conspiracy to Export and Cause the Export of Defense Articles from the United States and unlicensed brokering of defense articles. A jury convicted her in June.
Man, who was born in China, has been a U.S. citizen since 2006.