‘Live where the beast is the clos­est’

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­COLE AULT

In­creas­ing ten­sions over Kim Jong-un’s nu­clear am­bi­tions don’t up­set South Kore­ans’ day-to-day lives.

As North Korea’s dic­ta­tor and Amer­ica’s pres­i­dent ex­change mur­der­ous threats about nu­clear weapons, the rogue na­tion’s next-door neigh­bors in South Korea are — for the most part — calmly go­ing on with their lives.

“Per­haps the best way to over­come the fear of North Korea’s mil­i­tary threats is to live where the beast is the clos­est — South Korea,” wrote Haeryun Kang, a South Korean res­i­dent and ed­i­tor of news out­let Korea Ex­pose, in an es­say for The Guardian.

Hav­ing lived for decades with the un­re­lent­ing hos­til­ity and in­scrutable lead­er­ship from Py­ongyang, South Kore­ans can be seen mostly work­ing and en­joy­ing sum­mer ac­tiv­i­ties as usual this week, an in­di­ca­tion that the in­creas­ing ten­sions aren’t up­set­ting their day-to-day lives. A slight down­ward jolt to South Korea’s KOSPI stock in­dex this week may be one sign of nerves, but the stock in­dex fell by just 0.38 per­cent on Thurs­day, less than a 1.8 per­cent drop in the NAS­DAQ the same day.

“Peo­ple get wor­ried here [in South Korea], but peo­ple in the U.S. get way more scared about the news than we do,” a South Korean named Crys­tal told The Huff­in­g­ton Post.

For South Kore­ans, ver­bal and phys­i­cal threats from the North are noth­ing new. Py­ongyang has con­ducted nearly 80 mis­sile tests since Kim Jong-un’s as­cen­sion to power in 2011, 12 in 2017 alone. While the North’s new in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile tests may bring parts of the U.S. main­land into range, the South Korean cap­i­tal of Seoul is just 35 miles from the border, well within range of the North’s bristling con­ven­tional weapons ar­se­nal.

Far from pre­dict­ing im­mi­nent de­struc­tion, head­lines for South Korean news out­lets sug­gested that over­re­ac­tion was the big­gest dan­ger.

“U.S. and N. Korea es­ca­late war of words,” read the top news head­line for The Cho­sun Ilbo on­line, while an edi­to­rial for The Hanky­oreh de­clared that “Py­ongyang and Wash­ing­ton should end their war of words.”

“In­flamed rhetoric is push­ing re­gion to the brink of disas­ter,” ran the head­line of an edi­to­rial for Cho­sun.

Mean­while, on the web­site of Dong-A Ilbo, the North Korean cri­sis rated as only the fourth head­line down the page, crowded out by re­ports of an earthquake in China and the open­ing of a new ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter. De­cry­ing “hawk­ish politi­cians” in the U.S., an edi­to­rial in Dong-A Ilbo said war is not im­mi­nent.

Cheong Wa Dae, a top aide to Pres­i­dent Moon Jaein, echoed the be­lief that the Korean peninsula is not about to erupt in war.

“I do not agree with the claim that the Korean peninsula faces an im­mi­nent cri­sis,” he said, ac­cord­ing to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

For some, at least, the un­cer­tain­ties raised by the new Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion were at least as wor­ry­ing as the fa­mil­iar bel­liger­ent rhetoric from the North. In a Cho­sun edi­to­rial en­ti­tled “S. Korea is be­ing side­lined from its own fu­ture,” the au­thor wor­ried that the U.S. would ap­pease China by of­fi­cially end­ing the Korean War and with­draw­ing troops from South Korea.

“In all this [ne­go­ti­a­tion be­tween the U.S. and China] the South Korean gov­ern­ment has been com­pletely side­lined,” the au­thor wrote. “This is a whole new level of madness.”

De­spite ap­pear­ances of in­dif­fer­ence, South Kore­ans are not just jaded by the con­stant state of cri­sis, Mr. Kang main­tained.

As a re­sult of re­main­ing “red scare” and fears of sym­pa­thiz­ing with the North, Mr. Kang ar­gued, South Kore­ans are for­bid­den from ac­cess­ing many North Korean ma­te­ri­als or ex­press­ing too much in­ter­est in North Korean af­fairs, ren­der­ing in­dif­fer­ence the only fea­si­ble re­ac­tion.

“Be­hind the in­dif­fer­ence lies also years of fear, deep and even sub­con­scious, a glar­ing lack of in­for­ma­tion and un­avoid­able ig­no­rance about what re­ally is hap­pen­ing,” Mr. Kang wrote.

But to some ex­tent, the in­dif­fer­ence is also a re­flec­tion of bore­dom with repet­i­tive threats, as per­haps was best sum­ma­rized in an es­say by Do­hoon Kim, ed­i­tor in chief of Huf­fPost Korea, writ­ten af­ter North Korea tested a hy­dro­gen bomb last year.

Mr. Kim said the North’s threats are so com­mon, it’s hard to re­act too much to the lat­est provo­ca­tion.

“South Kore­ans don’t even flinch any­more when North Korea spills vit­riol about turn­ing Seoul into an ocean of blaze,” he wrote. “Imag­ine a cranky, ob­sti­nate rel­a­tive from long, long ago who shows up pe­ri­od­i­cally bang­ing on your gate with a ham­mer, in­sist­ing that you ex­tend him a loan.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

South Kore­ans can be seen mostly work­ing and en­joy­ing sum­mer ac­tiv­i­ties, an in­di­ca­tion that the in­creas­ing ten­sions aren’t up­set­ting their daily lives.

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