Northern threats fail to impress Seoul residents

File photo of Seoul skyline Down on the streets of Seoul, life continues as normal despite news bulletins full of North Korean threats

Here in South Korea it can sometimes feel as if there are two separate nations at the moment.

The news bulletins are full of the latest North Korean threats, the papers carry front-page pictures of the military hardware being paraded on both sides of the peninsula, and South Korea's own politicians are warning of a swift and strong response to any provocation.

But down on the streets of Seoul, life continues as normal.

Shops are full; taxi drivers hum their favourite karaoke classics; and the streets are packed with people out enjoying the sunny spring weather.

But with their own defence ministry saying North Korea is moving an medium-range missile towards the east coast, why is there not more of a sense of crisis?

Divided Korea's fragile peace

  • Korea was occupied by the Allies after WWII ending decades of rule by Japan
  • Soviets occupied the north and the US the south, but as allies became Cold War rivals, unification talks failed and separate regimes evolved
  • In 1950, the Korean War saw Mao's China back communist North Korea, while the US helped South Korea, fearing Asia would turn communist
  • A 1953 armistice created a fragile peace, and border tensions have lasted ever since

"It seems that some South Koreans are numb to the security threat," one woman told me, "but Kim Jong-un is a new leader and in my view he's probably doing this to gain bargaining chips for future negotiations."

Another said it was just a matter of "security fatigue" here after so many years of living with their unpredictable neighbour: "There have been so many verbal provocations over the years.

"This isn't the first time. That's why people are calm."

Start Quote

This tension has existed for more than 50 years, so I don't see the difference this time”

End Quote Joy Kim Seoul resident

But the current war of words has been unusually long, and unusually shrill. I asked one woman in her early thirties whether she was scared.

"Not really," she said. "I've never felt any fear, because the North Koreans haven't really done anything yet - except for verbal threats. I'm not really scared at all."

"I think the North Koreans would have to fire something" her friend said. "Without any South Korean casualties, I don't think South Koreans will feel threatened."

But the North does sometimes puncture that protective shell.

In the past few years, Pyongyang has been blamed for two attacks resulting in the deaths of 50 South Koreans, including two civilians.

If something similar happens again, the mood here could change very quickly.

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