'Fun as usual' in Guam despite threats by North Korea against the United States territory

Tourists take a selfie in the waters of Tumon Bay, on Guam, Aug. 21, 2017. The Japanese and South Korean visitors so vital to Guam’s tourism industry are long accustomed to bluster and threats from North Korea, and therefore unlikely to change plan
Tourists take a selfie in the waters of Tumon Bay, on Guam, Aug. 21, 2017. The Japanese and South Korean visitors so vital to Guam’s tourism industry are long accustomed to bluster and threats from North Korea, and therefore unlikely to change plans to visit the American island territory in the Pacific. PHOTO: NYTIMES

TOKYO - It is "fun as usual" in Guam despite recent threats by North Korea to lob missiles into waters around the United States territory, the island's Lieutenant Governor Raymond Tenorio said at a press conference in Tokyo on Wednesday (Aug 23).

Tourism arrivals this month, in fact, are on course to be higher than the current record of 144,758 visitors a month that was set in August last year.

As of August 15, visitor arrivals for the month were up 3 per cent compared to the same time last year, according to figures from the Guam Visitors Bureau.

Lt Gov Tenorio was in Tokyo to meet government officials and the media to reassure them that Guam was safe to visit.

US President Donald Trump told Guam Governor Eddie Calvo in a phone call earlier this month that the threat by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made the island "extremely famous all over the world", and that tourism was "going to go up, like, tenfold".

But Guam Visitors Bureau chief executive Jon Nathan Denight, in acknowledging the fragility of the tourism industry, said: "We want to reassure everyone that there has been no change to our threat level and it is business as usual".


Lieutenant Governor of Guam Raymond Tenorio attends a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo. PHOTO: EPA

This is even as the US and South Korea kicked off its war games exercise Ulchi-Freedom Guardian on Monday (Aug 21), an annual event that typically angers North Korea.

The Japanese account for the most number of tourists by nationality to Guam, the Pacific island located just 3½ hours away by air.

It is home to 162,000 residents, and welcomed more than 1.5 million visitors last year.

Lt Gov Tenorio, an elected politician and the island's No 2 official, stressed his confidence in the "resolute" multi-layered missile defence systems in the region, which have been progressively strengthened since 2013 when the reclusive state made its first threats against the territory.

These include the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system, at least one of which is permanently based at the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, and Aegis missile defence ships which can be deployed near the island in the event of an imminent strike. These are supplemented by Patriot PAC-3 missile units, which have a shorter range and can shoot rockets or debris as they near the ground.

Furthermore, Guam has the highest rates of citizen volunteer participation in the military across the US, he said, while also noting the joint defence drills that the US has with regional countries like Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines.

In the event of a "high alert" emergency, there is a civil defence system in place with sirens and emergency broadcast networks.

The month of September has also on Monday been declared the annual National Preparedness Month, in which the community is encouraged to conduct preparedness actions, develop emergency plans, learn how to stay safe, and how to communicate during an emergency.

"All this makes us confident that we can combat any form of attack on Guam," Lt Gov Tenorio said, adding that in any case, he believed that Mr Kim would not wilfully launch a strike as he would be aware of the repercussions.

"Throughout this last week and a half, the people of Guam have continued to live their lives - playing beach volleyball, jet skiing, going to family gatherings, getting their children ready for a new school year."