The annual U.N. General Assembly has generated sometimes powerful comments by world leaders on issues involving North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan and the flight of minority Muslims from Myanmar as more than 100 heads of state and government gather in New York.
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While President Trump was threatening to “totally destroy North Korea” this week in his address to the United Nations, the navies of Russia and China were engaged a maritime joint exercise less than 100 miles from the North Korean border with Russia.
The Russia-China exercises were the second this year and part of the so-called Joint-Sea 2017 program. The first drills in the exercise were held in the Baltic Sea in July and were closely watched by NATO and European countries, who were already on edge about Russia’s recent military muscle-flexing.
This week’s drills started in the Russian Far East port city of Vladivostok, home base of the Russian Pacific Fleet, and will continue for eight days on both land and sea. Submarine rescue and anti-submarine drills will take place in the Sea of Japan and spread into the Sea of Okhotsk, just north of Japan.
While Russia and China have been holding joint military exercises since 2012, the timing of this part of the Joint-Sea 2017 drills is significant. Washington’s rhetoric has become increasingly hostile toward the North Korean government as it has continued to disregard demands that it halt testing of nuclear weapons. Both Moscow and Beijing have significant economic interests in North Korea and have thus far had subdued responses to calls from the White House for stepped-up action against North Korea.
On Thursday, Trump announced additional economic sanctions targeting North Korea.
Russia has responded to Trump’s tough rhetoric by urging more diplomatic dialogue. Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that pressuring North Korea with threats was “misguided and futile" if the goal is to get North Korean President Kim Jung Un to back down.
China, North Korea’s biggest trade partner, has balked at U.S. suggestions that it should step up pressure on North Korean’s authoritative, hermit state to prevent a nuclear standoff.
This week, the U.S. and South Korea also held joint maritime exercises in the Pacific region, where they conducted bombing drills.
Russia and China’s exercises in the Pacific started on Sept. 18, just a few days after Russia began a massive joint military drill with neighboring Belarus called Zapad 2017 on the border between those two former Soviet states.
NATO expressed concerns about the lack of transparency from Russia about the size and scope of the exercises. Russia is a signing member of the Vienna Document, which stipulated that any member who holds exercises with more than 13,000 troops must invite other members to observe. While Russia said there were only 12,700 troops participating, Western military analysts speculated that there could be as many as 100,000, based on similar Russian military drills in the past, in which more troops showed up than originally planned.
Russia is not required by the Vienna agreement to invite international observers to military drills held east of the Ural mountains.