That sparked a grim warning by President Donald Trump that Washington could rain "fire and fury" on the North.
The US-South Korea military exercises are a reckless behavior, driving the situation into the uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war, North Korea officials said on Sunday.
China, North Korea's primary trade partner, has called for calm during the recent weeks, expressing frustration with both the North Korean regime over its repeated nuclear and missile tests and the Trump administration for their sabre rattling that it sees as unnecessarily escalating tensions in the region.
But he added that he will make an "important" decision if the United States continues its "extremely unsafe reckless actions" on the Korean Peninsula, apparently referring to the UFG exercises.
"This right now is an exercise to make certain that we're ready to defend South Korea and our allies over there", Mattis told reporters aboard an aircraft flying to Amman, Jordan. Impoverished North Korea hates the drills in part because they force it to respond with expensive military measures of its own.
North Korea routinely issues such warlike rhetoric or conducts weapons tests to respond to the U.S.
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Warning of an "uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war" on the peninsula, it added: "If the U.S. is lost in a fantasy that war on the peninsula is at somebody else's doorstep far away from them across the Pacific, it is far more mistaken than ever".
"It is a wrong perception that North Korea is completely dependent on China", Ri said at the time.
North Korea's rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the USA mainland has fueled a surge in regional tension and United Nations -led sanctions appear to have failed to bite deeply enough to change its behavior.
Or as Grant Newsham, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel and senior fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo told the Wall Street Journal, "Maybe North Korea felt that they had pushed it a little too far, at least for now".
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday the joint drills are defensive in nature and not meant to raise tensions on the peninsula. The initiative has been supported by Russian Federation but rejected by the United States.
The Pentagon said the joint exercise would involve about 17,500 United States service members, as well as troops from Australia, Canada, Colombia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Britain. But the Associated Press revealed last week that talks have been going on since the Obama administration between the United States and North Korea in NY under the aegis of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
China has long anxious that any conflict on the Korean peninsula, or a repeat of the 1950-53 Korean War, could unleash a wave of destabilising refugees into its northeast, and could end up with a reunified county allied with the US.
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