Reactions From South Korea About The Recent Tension With North Korea

by Jason -- July 29, 2010

The tension between North and South Korea has been brought into the spotlight once again the past few months. This time it began with the sinking of a South Korean warship killing 46 seamen.  The most recent event was Kim Jung Il and North Korea making threats of a nuclear deterrence. During this entire period, Sharon and I have been living in South Korea and seeing the reactions of Koreans first-hand. This past week we decided to make it a little more formal and ask a few of our Korean friends what their thoughts were on the situation. In the following post, I’ll summarize their thoughts, as well as give my own views on the recent events between North and South Korea.

Brief Background

For those who have not followed the happenings between North and South Korea, I will try my best to summarize the facts.

In March of this year, a South Korean warship sank off of the west coast of North and South Korea, killing 46 South Korean seamen. An international team of experts was immediately launched to investigate the sinking. In May, the team concluded that the warship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo.

This report, however, has been disputed by China. Additionally, North Korea has completely denied involvement in the act.

Just earlier this month, the United Nations condemned the striking of the warship but did not name North Korea as the aggressor. Many argued that this let North Korea off the hook.

Immediately after the initial report came out, North Korea began to make threats towards South Korea. Earlier this week, South Korea and the United States held “war games”, which again triggered numerous threats from the North. Kim Jung Il and the North has threatened with “nuclear deterrence”. A quote from their announcement:

The army and people of the DPRK will start a retaliatory sacred war of their own style based on nuclear deterrent any time necessary in order to counter the U.S. imperialists and the South Korean puppet forces deliberately pushing the situation to the brink of a war.

Our Informal Survey

With all of the threats, the question we wanted to know was, should we be concerned? Rather than listening to all of the terrifying news stories, it seemed like a better idea to ask those who had lived in Korea their entire lives. We asked a few of our Korean friends informally about their thoughts.

I would add that this is a small sampling of people and is very biased, as the only people we’re able to ask (unfortunately) are those who can speak English, which, in Korea, are typically people who are highly educated.

The Reactions Of Koreans

The first data point I’ll share is from early June. Sharon and I visited the DMZ, the North and South Korea border. This was only 1 and a half weeks after the investigation team reported that it was a North Korean missile that blew up the South Korean ship. This would seem like a very tense time between North and South Korea. However, the border was already open to tourists. The reason the border was already open, we were told, was because of how common the tension between North and South Korea has become. They’ve been dealing with the back and forth for over 50 years and things just continue to move on.

Here are some of the responses we received:

  • There’s really no reason to be concerned. Most Koreans see it as just another threat from North Korea. They’ve been doing this for a long time. They’re probably just looking for some additional aid.
  • Another reason not to be concerned about the threats made by North Korea is that they’re simply used to hold North Korea together. Meaning- Kim Jung Il uses the threats to show his people how powerful he is and how much the world still respects and fears him.
  • Another opinion stated that they felt the South Korean government did not act strongly enough against North Korea. North Korea will continue to bully South Korea because they know South Korea will not retaliate.
  • The last opinion stated that a potential war doesn’t even really depend on North and South Korea. It’s really up to China and America.

The Opinion of a Foreigner in Korea (Mine)

Living in Korea for nearly 5 months has given me a perspective on the situation as well. If something broke out between North and South Korea, I think South Korea would endure some potentially serious damage, but North Korea would be completely wiped up. What makes me nervous, though, is the fact that it would not be just North Korea and just South Korea fighting. China is one of North Korea’s strongest ally, as the United States is one of South Korea’s.

Additionally, what concerns me about North Korea is the fact that all of the people around Kim Jung Il are most likely telling him that they are powerful enough to take on and beat South Korea. And he probably believes it too.

In the end though, it’s in both North and South Korea’s best interest to avoid war. Seoul is only 31 miles from the North Korea border and is easily reachable from the border by North Korean missiles. Seoul is one of the largest cities in the world with over 12,000,000 people. It would be truly devastating if attacked.

The back-and-forth and threats between North and South Korea has been going on for a very long time. The media certainly exaggerates the seriousness of these threats and I think the reactions I see from Koreans about the subject proves this to be the case.

These sort of events have been going on for a long time. In 1987, for example, a bomb was planted by North Korea on a South Korean plane killing all on board. In 2002, North and South Korea fought a gun battle at sea, killing 5 South Korean sailors.

I’m not trying to belittle the attacks. It’s a terrible tragedy that 46 people died. I hope the two sides can eventually come to an agreement and the entire peninsula can prosper, but it doesn’t seem like this is that time.

For more, feel free to check out the articles I used to compile this post:

Photo Credit (Penguins): JohnBurke

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6 Responses to “Reactions From South Korea About The Recent Tension With North Korea”

  1. Very good post! I like all the infortmation and seeing it from a natives side as well as a vistor/american. I think the picture from the DMZ is so great and really paints a clear picture of the differences of the Koreas. Its very sad.

  2. Hey Jason, thanks for this. Really good summary of the situation and eye opening to hear your opinions as well as those of local South Koreans.

  3. Thanks Holly, thanks Matt!

    It’s been very interesting to actually be here and see things first hand, rather than just read it through the media. I agree, that it’s sad. Hopefully, the countries will get brought together one day!

  4. Jason, any thoughts on the recent announcements about a possible reunified Korea? I’d love to hear what the locals are saying. Great post, as usual.

  5. Hi Julia,

    The couple times I asked a couple of our friends about reunifying, they all said the same thing. They think it will happen, but said it would be one day in the future. The couple articles I’ve read about the subject said this same thing as well. They mostly think it will happen, but believe it will happen at some point in the future. An article I read yesterday actually pointed out how insanely expensive it is going to be to reunify (perhaps you read the same article?). I was shocked at this stat, North Korea’s economy is 3% the size of the South. They’re going to need a lot of aid when they reunify.



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