Regarding Recent Tensions

Regarding Recent Tensions

We've been getting some questions about our neighbor to the North. Specifically, "are you okay?" "when are you getting out of there?" and "aren't you guys scared?" From reading the news, you may think that the DMZ is starting to look like a game of Starcraft, with Koreans on both sides frantically building up materials and supplies in preparation for conflict.

I suppose I shouldn't be flippant. I am talking about a man who threatens nuclear war, and spends his days oppressing his people. He's not really a laughing matter. However, it is also true that the situation is not as dangerous as some people are making it sound. North Korea regularly gets shriek-y and bellicose, only to let things fade back to normal after a few weeks and the promise of more international aid. This is their historical pattern. The only real difference is that there's a new guy in charge.

I've collected a handy selection of news stories that may help shed some additional light on what's going on over here right now.

From Chosun Ilbo, March 28th, 2013: North Korea told Chinese tourism agencies not to worry. There wouldn't be a war (link).

From Reuters, April 6th, 2013: The Embassies in Pyongyang aren't planning on leaving, in spite of warnings (link)Some great quotes:

  • "We don't believe there's any foreign mission about to leave Pyongyang. Most foreign governments view the North Korean message as a way of ratcheting up tension on the Korean peninsula."
  • "...Commentators examining the outcome of meetings in Pyongyang last week - of the ruling Workers' Party and of the rubber-stamp legislature - concluded that Kim and his leadership were more concerned with economic than military issues."

From Chosun Ilbo, April 8th, 2013: North Korea really, REALLY wants to reassure tourists that everything will be okay. (link). They've announced that they're starting a boat tour for any Chinese who care to visit.

From Fox News, April 9th, 2013: An overview article on the recent Korea tensions (link). Although the headline is rather unnecessarily lurid, the article itself is calm and pretty comprehensive.

  • "Analysts see a direct attack on Seoul as extremely unlikely, and there are no overt signs that North Korea's army is readying for war, let alone a nuclear one."

From Reuters, April 9th, 2013: He can't go to war, he needs his army to plant crops at the end of the month (link). Seriously.

  • "North Korea can't farm without the army ... The North Korean army's main job is malnutrition eradication," said Kim Na-young, a North Korean female army defector who spent five years until 1996 in an army unit on the east coast and came to South Korea in late 2008."

And Reuters from April 9th, 2013: They may fire off a couple more rockets in test launches, but tensions are likely to decline as we head into May (link).

Lastly, here's an overview of the history of rising and falling tensions on the peninsula, courtesy of the BBC.

Honestly, the biggest thing to keep in mind is that Korean culture is very different from western culture. I mean, this is the country that turned a video game into its national sport. Are South Koreans nervous? Sure, a bit. But Seoul, the city under the cross-hairs, had business as usual today. Was it an act of bravado?

No, it was just Thursday.