South Koreans unfazed by North's 'usual' sabre-rattling

A notice pointing to a bomb shelter in Seoul. While reports said North Korea's recent nuclear and missile tests have raised tensions, the streets of Seoul are bustling as usual as South Koreans go about their lives.
A notice pointing to a bomb shelter in Seoul. While reports said North Korea's recent nuclear and missile tests have raised tensions, the streets of Seoul are bustling as usual as South Koreans go about their lives.PHOTO: NYTIMES

While their government and military are keeping watch on nuclear- armed North Korea amid current tensions, many South Koreans are in holiday mode this week.

"To a certain extent, we are immune to North Korea's provocative actions over the years," said financial consultant Kim Min Ji, 27, who read about North Korea's failed missile test last Saturday in the news but did not bother with the details.

She is taking a break with her family in south-eastern Ulsan city because of the Golden Week holidays.

Event organiser Jeong Da Hye,27, said only the older generation, like her parents who are in their 50s, are worried about talk of a military option, which could lead to full-out war. "But I think those are just political calculations... Missile and nuclear threats are the usual thing."

As the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a truce, the two Koreas are technically still at war. Pyongyang has been conducting nuclear and missile tests, and aiming to develop an intercontinental missile capable of hitting the US mainland.

Fears have intensified in recent weeks, with US President Donald Trump warning of a "major conflict" with the North and Pyongyang proclaiming it is prepared.

  • LIVING WITH THE N. KOREAN THREAT

  • Tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen in recent weeks, with Pyongyang unleashing war threats against the United States and its allies. What is it like living within striking range of North Korea's artillery and missiles? Our correspondents in South Korea and Japan take stock of the mood in these two countries.

PREPAREDNESS IS KEY

Tension and provocations will persist as long as the Kim Jong Un regime wants to remain in power, but the US-South Korea alliance is strong and there's no need to worry if we are prepared.

HOUSEWIFE KIM SUNG AE

Real estate agent Susie Kim, 52, noticed a sense of foreboding in some of her clients. "I saw a house well stocked with water and rice, and an Italian client asked me where he should go for shelter in case of a military strike due to Trump's hot temper."

But in the bustling streets of Seoul, tension is nowhere to be felt as people went about their busy life.

At barbecue restaurant On The Grill in the centrally located Myeongdong shopping belt, customers are "eating and partying, complaining about work and their bosses", said Singaporean owner Johnathan Quek, 30. "There's no talk about North Korea," he added.

For most, the prospect of war is far less worrying than Tuesday's presidential election to replace impeached leader Park Geun Hye and end months of political turmoil triggered by her corruption scandal.

"No one cares about North Korea, actually," said Ms Amy Han, who is in her 30s and works at an e-commerce company. "Korean people have to worry about our own governance first, about social fairness and welfare, economy, and then, national security."

Analysts say the US would not want to risk massive casualties by exercising the military option, but do not rule out the possibility of an accident - perhaps a slip of the tongue or miscalculation by the US or North Korea.

But Mr Quek, who moved to South Korea in 2010, is not worried.

"(North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un needs to maintain his lifestyle, so he will never start a war. Trump is unpredictable but the people around him are not stupid."

South Koreans like Ms Kim also believe the North will not attack again because "we are one race, and we share lots of history".

Those in their 70s and 80s who experienced the Korean War are more concerned about history repeating itself, but even for them, there is little urge to do anything about it.

Housewife Kim Sung Ae, 70, fled to the South with her parents during the war. "Tension and provocations will persist as long as the Kim Jong Un regime wants to remain in power, but the US-South Korea alliance is strong and there's no need to worry if we are prepared," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2017, with the headline 'S. Koreans unfazed by North's 'usual' sabre-rattling'. Print Edition | Subscribe