Naval forces of the United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea will conduct a two-day joint drill next week in the waters south of the Korean Peninsula, raising concerns over regional stability.
The two-day drill, scheduled to start on Thursday in waters off the ROK's southern island of Jeju, will involve training in search and rescue operations and maritime interdiction operations, the ROK Defense Ministry said on Thursday.
Destroyers and anti-submarine helicopters will be mobilized for what officials call an exercise "of a humanitarian nature", the ministry said.
This is the first time that Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force troops have conducted a drill in related waters with the US and ROK naval forces.
Japan's military personnel have participated in joint US-ROK maneuvers as observers.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, based at the port of Yokosuka in Japan, is expected to take part in the drill, Kyodo News Agency said.
The Pentagon said the drill will focus on "improving interoperability and communications" to facilitate "cooperative disaster relief and maritime security activities" in the future.
The three countries "will conduct this exercise beyond the territorial waters of any coastal nation", it added.
But the joint operation is also intended to pressure Pyongyang to refrain from escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Japan's Jiji Press news agency said.
In addition to the DPRK, Kyodo said the exercise is also aimed at reining in China.
Beijing on Thursday also responded to the planned drill.
"China believes the international community, especially countries in the Asia-Pacific region, should contribute more to ensuring the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula as well as the Northeast Asia region, not making things worse," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.
Analysts said the drill is primarily aimed at boosting military coordination to handle the situation on the Korean Peninsula in case of emergencies, and will also help beef up Washington's military presence in the region.
The drill comes in the wake of Washington's new strategic focus the Asia Pacific region, and the drill will "further strengthen the US' leading status in the Peninsula situation", said Zheng Hao, a commentator with Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV.
Seoul and Washington are set to launch a separate, three-day drill on June 23 in waters off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula, Xinhua said.
In another development, the top diplomats and defense chiefs of Washington and Seoul on Thursday discussed how to strengthen their alliance and cope with the threat posed by Pyongyang.