U.S.-South Korea aircraft carrier drill delayed

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) - The U.S. and South Korean militaries have postponed exercises in the Yellow Sea opposed by China, the Pentagon said on Monday, blaming the delay on scheduling snags and not protests from Beijing.

The USS George Washington arrives in Busan, South Korea, July 21, 2010. REUTERS/Charles Oki/U.S. Navy

China had said the Pentagon’s plans to send the nuclear-powered carrier USS George Washington to the joint exercise -- set to take place between China and the Korean peninsula -- threatened long-term damage to Sino-U.S. relations.

South Korean government and military sources told South Korean media that the decision to cancel the drill, which was loosely scheduled to take place late this month, was made to avoid creating problems with China and North Korea ahead of the G20 summit on November 11-12, being held in Seoul.

The allies made the decision “in a bid not to unnecessarily antagonize neighboring countries” before the summit, Yonhap news agency quoted a government source as saying.

But the Pentagon rejected that assertion, saying the decision was due to scheduling problems.

“Our decision to postpone had nothing to do with China,” Colonel Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters.

“As we’ve said in the past, these exercises are directed to send a message to North Korea and the Chinese should have no concerns with these types of exercises in international waters.”

The United States and South Korea announced the drills in reaction to a torpedo attack on a South Korean navy ship in March. Pyongyang denied responsibility for the sinking, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

Friction between Beijing and Washington over Chinese maritime claims and U.S. naval activities has added to irritants between the two countries, which have sparred this year over exchange rate policy, Taiwan, Tibet and Internet policy.

The United States recently criticized Chinese claims to swathes of the South China Sea, where Taiwan and several Southeast Asian states also assert sovereignty. China has said the waters and atolls there are among its “core” national interests.

Rear Admiral Yang Yi, a senior researcher at the National Defense University in Beijing, told Reuters in August that the exercise would have been provocatively close to China’s political and economic heartland.

Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Stacey Joyce