I keep waiting for my blood pressure to rise, as I read all these out-of-Busan news reports of tension on the Korean peninsula.
Still, North Korea’s anger, and Seoul’s stern rebuttals, is boosting animosity and causing worries on an already tense Korean Peninsula. The rivals this week are also holding dueling military drills.
Seoul has responded to North Korean threats with tough talk of its own and has placed its troops on high alert.
Despite the Rodong Sinmun report, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the armistice is still valid and still in force because the armistice agreement had been adopted by the U.N. General Assembly and can’t be dissolved unilaterally.
Nesirky added that officials at U.N. headquarters in New York were unaware of any operational changes on the ground on the Korean Peninsula.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. was “certainly concerned by North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric. And the threats that they have been making follow a pattern designed to raise tension and intimidate others.”
The angry words from both Koreas haven’t stopped them from communicating about the only remaining operational symbol of joint cooperation, the Kaesong industrial complex. It is operated in North Korea with South Korean money and know-how and a mostly North Korean workforce — and provides a badly needed flow of hard currency to a country where many face food shortages.
Under new President Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s Defense Ministry, which often brushes off North Korean threats, has looked to send a message of strength in response to the latest comments from Pyongyang.
The ministry has warned that the North’s government would “evaporate from the face of the Earth” if it ever used a nuclear weapon.
Sounds serious, eh? Not as tense as a typical rush hour on any major thoroughfare. It seems the average North Korean is more concerned than I am.
According to RFA, one resident of North Korea’s Yanggang Province said, “All the people around here said ‘If there are nuclear weapons, I thought it would get better, but I didn’t know it would be this horrible.’”
“When there are nuclear weapons or when there are not, there’s no change,” the resident said about the current atmosphere. “The authorities said if we have nuclear weapons, we can scare off anyone we meet, but on the contrary even though we have nuclear weapons and we’re shouting that we might launch a preemptive strike, I’m worried it seems we might receive a preemptive strike.”
And, neither the North Korean or South Korean elite seem in any hurry to tangle with the other, but might be in training for a bigger fight. On North Korea, Nick Hansen says, “no imminent launches, but…” (awesome satellite imagery as usual)? Those equally restrained South Koreans, now there’s some serious calculation going on down there.
I was in the ROK when North Korea in 2009 tested the second time, and when I arrived back in the country on February 17 I didn’t think that South Korea’s reaction to the third test would be any different. Within 48 hours after arriving in Seoul, it was clear that I was wrong about that. Martin Fackler and Choe Sang-hun from the New York Times were on hand in Seoul with us and their piece this morning summarized the overall tenor.
Even before we showed up at the conference in Seoul, participants were informed by e-mail that the agenda of the Asan meeting would be changed to reflect intense concern about the test. At the top of the meeting in the morning of March 19, Chung Moon Joon, a ROK parliamentarian, former presidential candidate, and a member of the Hyundai family, which funds Asan, endorsed the redeployment of U.S. theater nuclear weapons on ROK territory, and then offered this: “Some even say that the only way to solve the North Korean nuclear problem is for South Korea to follow the India-Pakistan example, or the case of Israel, a country that is most close to the U.S. politically, but acknowledged to have nuclear weapons. Having our own nuclear arsenal may be the only way to negotiate a ‘grand bargain’ with North Korea.” During the conference, Asan reported the results of fresh opinion research conducted in the shadow of the DPRK test suggesting that a majority of South Koreans favored the ROK having nuclear weapons.
I have this notion that the average South Korea trusts – perhaps more than a few resent it, too – that the United States will protect them somehow. But, unless you have a nuclear axe to grind, finding a South Korean who worries about North Korea is hard to find.