South joint drills begin amid North Korea tensions

US and South Korean troops have begun annual drills that come after tensions rose over North Korea's two intercontinental ballistic missile tests last month.

The annual Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercise begins on Monday and involves more than 17,000 American troops along with small contingents from Britain, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, New Zealand and the Netherlands.

"The Trump group's declaration of the reckless nuclear war exercises against North a reckless behaviour driving the situation into the uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war", the daily said.

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in said Monday the drills are defensive in nature.

The announcement came amid fears that the annual military drills could spark a new crisis with North Korea after leader Kim Jong Un put on hold a threat to fire missiles into the waters near Guam.

In the first of week of August, both nations engaged in series of threats and rhetoric, when U.S. President Donald Trump warned of unleashing "fire and fury" should not Korea carries out an act that threatens the United States and its allies.

Pyongyang released the statement saying that Australia should focus on maintaining peace in its own country instead of "blindly following the U.S".

"The Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint military exercises will be like pouring gasoline on fire and worsen the state of the peninsula".

South Korea usually deploys about 50,000 troops while the United States sends 25,000 to 30,000 soldiers.

The South Korean president agreed on the need to add more pressure on the North, but insisted the final and sole objective of the additional pressure must be to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue "peacefully" and through dialogue.

Moon had previously attended a National Security Council meeting at 9 a.m. on August 21 with Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon and several senior government officials to discuss plans related to the joint exercise and defense against possible North Korean provocations.

Both the United States and South Korea strongly defend the exercises arguing they are necessary measures to check their defence readiness.

In recent years, North Korea has displayed military provocations around the joint exercise period.

Asked to comment on the cutback, Hua said China had "noted the reduction of the U.S. forces", but reiterated that military exercises would not help to reduce tensions. "It should not provoke the situation by using the exercise as an excuse". So far the USA and South Korea have rejected this idea.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Mattis told reporters during a flight to Amman, Jordan, that a substantial reduction in troops had been planned months in advance. During last year's drills, North Korea launched a ballistic missile from a submarine and put its military on the highest alert.