Tue, Apr 02, 2013 - Page 6 News List

North Korea’s saber-rattling fails to cause panic among Seoul residents

The Guardian, SEOUL

Judging by the mood among people in the South Korean capital on Sunday, the message has yet to get through that their country is in a state of war with its belligerent neighbor.

Groups of tourists and young couples filled the streets of Seoul near the cavernous glass edifice of city hall, relishing the warmth of the early spring sunshine after another bitterly cold Korean winter.

Shoppers swarmed into the nearby Lotte department store, snapping up early-evening discounts in the basement food hall, while TV channels served up an eclectic mix of baseball, period drama and news of a spiraling crisis over government appointees surrounding South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

Little, if anything, was said about North Korea, which in recent weeks has directed a flurry of furious threats at the South and the US, culminating in the release of a mildly comedic photograph of the regime’s 30-year-old leader, Kim Jong-un, seated with his generals in front of a map pinpointing envisioned US targets for an imminent nuclear strike.

“Kim Jong-un is crazy. He runs a poor, hungry country ... his threats are just talk designed to get food and money. But if North Korea bombs any part of South Korea, like it did in 2010, this time we should respond with an all out attack,” said Josiah Jung, a 22-year-old student.

While experts believe the North is a long way off building a functioning nuclear weapon, let alone one that can reach the US mainland, Pyongyang gave notice on Sunday that it would push ahead with the development of weapons of mass destruction.

In a statement released by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the central committee of the ruling Korean Workers’ party slammed charges that the North is using its nuclear program to win aid and diplomatic concessions.

The announcement comes amid frequent threats to attack South Korea and its allies, the US and Japan.

On Saturday, the regime said it had entered a “state of war” with Seoul and would “settle accounts with the US” after two of its stealth bombers took part in a training mission over an uninhabited South Korean island.

Pyongyang said it would retaliate against any provocations by the US or the South “without prior notice.”

In response, the Unification Ministry in Seoul, which is responsible for cross-border relations, said: “North Korea’s statement today is not a new threat, but is the continuation of provocative threats.”

Most analysts believe North Korea, now ruled by a third generation of the Kim dynasty, is reverting to a trusted diplomatic strategy of using threats to win concessions on aid and, ultimately, a peace treaty with the US.

The North Korean regime, so the received wisdom goes, has neither the capability nor the political will to make good on its threats. It knows that an attack on the US or its overseas assets would invite swift, powerful retaliation against Pyongyang and prompt the collapse of the regime.

That view is shared by many South Koreans, even those too young to remember similar provocations by Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il.

“This has been going on since the 1950s and 60s,” said Lee Jang-won, a 29-year-old employee of a solar power firm who recently completed his national service. “I don’t think North Korea will do anything major, despite what it says. Kim Jong-un has too much to lose.”

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