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US carrier links up with Asian ally

Nuclear-powered vessel has docked in South Korea in preparation for military drills

The USS Ronald Reagan arrived in the South Korean port of Busan on Friday, ahead of the first joint military exercises, between Washington and Seoul, involving an aircraft carrier since 2017. Prior to its arrival, the nuclear-powered vessel spent the summer in the South China sea amid tensions with China over Taiwan.

Arriving with two other ships from its carrier strike group, the Ronald Reagan will host US and South Korean dignitaries while docked in Busan, before leaving the port in the coming days for exercises. 

Although the US Navy made no mention of North Korea in a statement announcing the carrier's visit, the strike group's commander, Rear Admiral Michael Donnelly, told reporters that the drills signal that the US and South Korean navies "are interoperable and integrated to face any challenge or threat."

The South Korean navy said that the exercises demonstrate "the firm resolve by the Korea-U.S. alliance for the sake of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."

The Ronald Reagan last visited Busan in 2017, when the US sent three aircraft carriers for drills with the South Koreans in response to North Korean missile tests. Subsequent drills were postponed or downsized due to former President Donald Trump's diplomatic outreach to North Korea from 2018 onwards, and to the Covid-19 pandemic starting in 2020.

The latest exercises come as the US believes Pyongyang is gearing up to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017. The country's leader, Kim Jong-un, has stepped up artillery and missile tests in recent months, to which the US responded by sending six F-35 stealth fighter jets to South Korea for a series of exercises in July. Pyongyang views US drills as "provocations," and proof that it needs to strengthen its nuclear program.

Before arriving in Busan, the USS Ronald Reagan spent four months in the Western Pacific and South China Sea, patrolling near Taiwan as China launched large-scale military exercises last month following a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei. The 1,000-foot carrier then returned to its home port of Yokosuka, Japan, before heading to Busan.