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Japan, U.S., South Korea start military drills to counter North

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan, the United States and South Korea on Thursday began a new joint military exercise in the East China Sea spanning aerial, naval and cyber domains, apparently to boost their readiness against North Korea's missile and nuclear threats.

The three-day "Freedom Edge" drills involve the helicopter carrier Ise and the Aegis destroyer Atago from Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force and the U.S. nuclear-powered carrier Theodore Roosevelt, according to a trilateral statement released by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

South Korean destroyers, as well as aircraft from the three nations, are also joining in the exercise, the statement said.

The drills -- which started on the high seas south of South Korea's Jeju Island, according to a South Korean military source -- express "the will" of Tokyo, Washington and Seoul "to promote trilateral interoperability and protect freedom for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, including the Korean Peninsula," the statement said.

The exercise will focus on "cooperative ballistic missile defense, air defense, anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue, maritime interdiction, and defensive cyber training," it added.

The launch of the annual multi-domain trilateral exercise was agreed by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his U.S. and South Korean counterparts, Joe Biden and Yoon Suk Yeol, when they held a summit at Camp David near Washington in August last year.

It comes as North Korea has repeatedly conducted ballistic missile tests amid lingering fears over its seventh nuclear test, and first since 2017.

The United States and its two East Asian allies are also concerned about China's increasing military activities, especially near Taiwan, a self-ruled island Beijing sees