US and S Korea consider scaling back military exercises

By Edward White in Seoul and Katrina Manson in Washington

The US and South Korea are considering scaling back joint military exercises on the Korean peninsula, as the fallout from the spread of coronavirus continues to widen.

Mark Esper, the US defence secretary, told reporters in Washington that an upcoming training exercise was being reviewed by General Robert Abrams, the head of the US forces in South Korea, and General Park Han-ki, chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

A decision on postponing or cancelling upcoming drills – exercises which are typically designed to boost defences and preparedness for a potential attack by North Korea – has not been made, a spokesperson for the US forces in South Korea said.

South Korea is one of the worst hit countries outside of China, with eight deaths and 893 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the latest official figures.

The outbreak has centred around Daeugu, the country’s fourth biggest city, where most cases have been linked to a pseudo-Christian sect known as the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

Health officials plan to test Shincheonji’s 215,000 members for the virus after the secretive group buckled to government pressure to provide a list of its members’ names, Seoul said on Tuesday.

The move came after Kwon Young-jin, Daegu mayor, said a top health official with responsibility for fighting the disease identified himself as a Shincheonji member after testing positive for the virus.

Steve Cochrane, an economist at Moody’s, said if the virus spreads further from Daegu its impact on the country’s economy would increase with the potential to interrupt industrial and technology supply chains.

“While the city is not a significant growth driver of the Korean economy, it is linked with the rest of the country and the world through supply chains in various manufacturing industries,” he said.

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