Tensions rise as Seoul prepares for war games

This combined image shows an annual joint military exercise the Ulchi Freedom Guardian that South Korea and the United States will stage from Aug. 21-31 2017

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said North and South Korea and the United States all needed to make more effort to ease tension.

"The situation on the Korean peninsula has plunged into a critical phase due to the reckless north-targeted war racket of the war maniacs".

North Korea's military unleashed its standard fiery threats to greet the start of annual US-South Korean military drills that the North claims are an invasion rehearsal.

Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Sunday attended the swearing-in ceremony of his new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Jeong Kyeong-doo, becoming the South's first sitting president to do so.

He said diplomacy was "the most important starting point" in response to the North's threat, when asked what actions by North Korea might trigger a preemptive US strike against Pyongyang.

Harris also told reporters that a scheduled "operational pause" by the U.S. Navy's fleet worldwide would not affect the military's ability to defend South Korea.

The report said the Korean People's army is maintaining a high alert and fully ready to confront the enemies.

The wargames use computer simulations to prepare for conflict with nuclear-capable North Korea.

Officials from the US and South Korea say the Ulchi Freedom Guardian Drills, which run through the end of August and marshal tens of thousands of soldiers, are defensive.

The "lax enforcement" of existing sanctions and Pyongyang's "evolving evasion techniques" were undermining the United Nations goal of getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, Kyodo quoted the report as saying. "It will take resolute steps the moment even a slight sign of the preventive war is spotted", it said.

The head of the USA military's Pacific Command said on Tuesday it was more important to use diplomacy to counter North Korea's missile threat rather than consider what actions by the reclusive North might trigger a preemptive strike.

The annual exercise often provokes North Korea, which describes them as a rehearsal for war; However, Washington and Seoul insist they are purely for defensive objective. It comes on the heels of North Korea testing two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July, and an announcement that it was examining a plan to possibly bracket Guam with missiles - a plan that is on hold.

The US has reduced the number of its participating service members to 17,500 from 25,000, according to the Pentagon.

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