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North Korea, South Korea standoff heats up as war games begin

South Korea and the US start new war games Monday, just days after the South dropped propaganda leaflets about Middle East revolutions over North Korea.

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A military truck carrying South Korean Army soldiers makes its way besides barbed wire fences near Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, about 34 miles north of Seoul, February 28.

Jo Yong-Hak/Reuters

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US and South Korean troops opened 11 days of war games Monday in the face of North Korean threats to turn Seoul into “a sea of fire” and to start “all-out war.”

Officials dismissed the rhetoric from North Korea as a sign of rising North Korean anger in a familiar cycle of threats. The US command here says the exercises, involving nearly 13,000 US troops and 200,000 Korean civilians mainly conducted on computers, had been in the planning stage for months and were entirely “defensive.”

The real question is the degree to which China will act to discourage a North Korean response akin to what happened last year following similar drills. Though North Korea has repeatedly denied any role, an international investigation blamed it for sinking the South Korea’s Navy corvette the Cheonan nearly a year ago, killing 46 South Korean sailors.

China's concern

China maintains its prime concern on the Korean peninsula is “stability,” but has pointedly refused to support the results of the South Korean investigation with international participation, the Cheonan incident. Last week, it opposed a move in the United Nations to condemn North Korea for construction of a new nuclear reactor capable of enriching uranium for nuclear weapons.

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