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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

South Koreans grow accustomed to the omnipresent threat from Pyongyang

'We have this underlying belief that Kim Jong-un's regime is bluffing and won't point their guns towards us,' said one South Korean

South Koreans say they are no longer scared of the North Korea. Antonie Robertson / The National
South Koreans say they are no longer scared of the North Korea. Antonie Robertson / The National

Living less than 200 kilometres from Pyongyang, where nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests are gaining power, South Koreans have grown accustomed to life under threat.

Sae-jin Park, a 35-year-old businessman, said that, like many South Koreans, he feels threatened by the North because he has lived all his life in a country where the North and the South were under a ceasefire. Having served his mandatory military service for two and a half years in his early 20s, he is "aware of Pyongyang's constant military threats.”

“But we have this underlying belief that Kim Jong-un's regime is bluffing and won't point their guns towards us,” he said.

His belief stems from the fact that there were too many threats already made. "The older generations, above 60, are rather [nonchalant] towards the threats made by Pyongyang, while some of the younger generations make preparations,” he said.

“It's hard enough for South Koreans to live in a competitive society where losing pace and getting left behind is more of a direct threat to life than some distant country from the North.”

The preparations people make include carrying a small bag with water, clothes, tissues, a thermal blanket and a hand warmer and evacuation centres are always on standby.

“The preparations are not actually for the war, but for possible situations like disasters and small conflicts,” the businessman said. “There are online communities that share urban area survival know-hows and bug-out bags, also known as survival backpacks, became popular items online in the last few years.”

Juing-hui Son remembers her childhood amid the Korean war, which ended in 1953.

“We had practiced evacuations in case of an attack from North Korea,” said the 55-year-old receptionist. “However, many years have passed since then and the world has changed. There is a lot of news about North Korea's provocations, but I don't think that war could happen that easily.”

She said she was no longer afraid of the prospect of a war with their neighbour. “It has no impact on my daily life,” she said.

Yoo Jin, an interpreter in Seoul, said that, although a series of North Korean provocations had made global headlines, ordinary Koreans like herself were not too concerned.

“The nuclear threats and missile tests, which have intensified over the past years, are enough to upset us,” she said. “We have already had a fair amount of scares in the past and we’ve become somewhat desensitised to new threats.”

“People from outside may be concerned about the two leaders with erratic behaviours – namely our neighbour to the North and the United States. That they might make the already volatile situation on the Korean peninsula irreversible,” the interpreter said. “Maybe I am too naive, but I don't think we will find ourselves in such a situation.”

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As far as the prospect of reunification is concerned, she said most of the younger generations did not care much for it.

“Uniting the two Koreas is more like a national obligation and a kind of mission that needs to be accomplished,” she said. “I so think the unification is necessary one day though, because of economic reasons."

In the long term, she said abundant natural resources in North Korea and massive infrastructure projects, which will be needed after unification, would be helpful to the economy.

“The demographic balance, meaning the relatively younger North Korean society, will also infuse vitality into the ageing Korean society,” she said.

Conversely, for Young-sook Song, a 74-year-old housewife in Yeosu, older people like herself are more concerned about North Korea’s threats than younger generations as they witnessed the hardships after the devastating war.

“Though I was a young child when the Korean war broke out, the devastating images of the war are still vivid in my mind,” she said.