Multinational anti-proliferation drills kick off on day of N. Korea’s botched space launch

Multinational maritime drills aimed at preventing the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) kicked off Wednesday, as North Korea's attempt to put its first spy satellite into orbit failed.

The Eastern Endeavor 23 drills, which were staged in a scaled back manner due to poor weather conditions, come after South Korea hosted a high-level forum of countries committed to preventing the trafficking of WMD under the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) on Jeju Island the previous day.

Under the scaled-back plan, only the ROKS Wang Geon destroyer participated in the exercise from a port in Jeju, while the U.S.' USS Milius destroyer, Japan's JS Hamagiri destroyer and Australia's HMAS Anzac frigate joined in from the seas south of Jeju and conducted the maritime interdiction exercise in a computer-simulated format.

The exercise involved procedures to disseminate information on a virtual vessel suspected of carrying WMD, tracking down the vessel, followed by on-board search operations by the South Korean Coast Guard personnel and others.

Delegates from 70 countries observed the exercise from the 14,500-ton ROKS Marado amphibious landing ship docked on a civilian-military naval base on the southern island of Jeju.

Due to the changes, a planned review of the warships by Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup was canceled.

The event had drawn attention as the Japanese warship was expected to hoist the ensign of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, which critics say could trigger a historical controversy as it looks akin to the Rising Sun Flag, seen as symbolic of Japan's past militarism.

The defense ministry earlier announced the drills will be simplified due to worsening weather in the exercise waters. The participating countries initially planned to mobilize a total of seven vessels and six aircraft.

Seoul officials have said the PSI exercise does not target any particular nation, but a prevailing view has been that it will help enhance concerted efforts to forestall the possibility of North Korea's WMD proliferation.

Earlier in the day, the North fired what it claims to be a "space launch vehicle" southward. The South Korean military said it fell into the Yellow Sea after an "abnormal" flight.

The PSI was launched in 2003 under the George W. Bush administration to stop the trafficking of WMD, their delivery systems and related materials. The PSI holds a high-level political meeting every five years to review and set guidelines for the initiative.

The U.S. initiated the Asia-Pacific PSI exercises in 2014, and participating countries have hosted their own exercises, like Eastern Endeavor in South Korea, Pacific Protector in Australia and Pacific Shield in Japan.

Last year, the U.S. hosted the five-day Fortune Guard 22 in Honolulu in September, which brought together 21 countries, including South Korea.

Source: Yonhap News Agency