I'm increasing my usual blogging frequency of a post every...few months...because I felt the current circumstances warranted an update, now that North Korea's rhetoric and threats have turned to the foreigners in South Korea, a demographic that happens to include my family.
You see, my family has planned more of the usual tomorrow: I'm teaching a bunch of classes, Lucas is going to school where they're making ham sandwiches for "Cooking Day", and Carlos is working out after I get home. We'll bake a chicken and some pita bread for dinner. We may even watch a movie in the evening! However, if you checked the CNN headlines today, you might be concerned that we may be choosing the wrong course of action...
Based on this headline, we would be better off staying home, purchasing airline tickets and packing for a hasty departure. But this is not the plan. Why? Because we believe there are other perspectives to look at besides the US media, which, after all, is based an entire continent away. The story is a bit different when you instead turn to local Korean news sources in English. For example, the Korea Times, this country's oldest English-language news source looks like this right now:
In this report, North Korea's young, fresh dictator is viewed as a combative character straining to prevent an Arab Spring redux with his own long-oppressed subjects. The writer Kim Tae-gyu explains:
Meanwhile, the Korea JoongAng Daily is concerned primarily with the economic consequences of North Korea's decision to tentatively shut down operations at the joint Korean industrial complex just north of the border.
No talk of mass evacuations, no urging foreigners to swarm their embassies or find bomb shelters. Why the drastically different treatment of the current situation?
Maybe some of the answer comes from the perspective detailed by Andrei Lankov, one of the worlds leading scholars and experts on Korean relations. Rather than ratings-hungry media and US military experts, I appreciate hearing from someone who has studied the peninsula in detail for decades and has lived for a significant amount of time on each side of the border.
In an interview last week, Mr. Lankov felt that North Korea's current threats would be best ignored. He points out that when North Korea has warned of attack, they never actually have, and when they've actually attacked, it was with no warning at all. When asked why he thinks it sounds so serious this time, he says:
For many years, actually for decades, North Korea has played the same trick, which until recently has worked well. First, they manufacture a crisis. They behave pretty much like they're behaving now. They drive tensions high. And sooner or later, the international community and the major players begin to feel unwell and tense and insecure. At that point, North Koreans suggest to start negotiations, and they extract aid and other concessions in exchange for their willingness to return to the status quo...This approach, these tactics have worked perfectly well for many, many years, but recently it's losing its efficiency, because the outside world, above all the United States, have finally learned how it usually works with North Korea and they are not really rushing with money and concessions. And this is what North Korea wants above all: money and concessions from the outside world. So, obviously, it's quite possible that the North Korean decision makers decided to go really seriously loud this time.Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Seoul is maintaining its security message from last week, explaining that they perceive no imminent threat to US citizens located in South Korea. Carlos and I are registered with our respective embassies and we're watching for any information that would indicate the need to take action, but for now, we're fine!
So there it is, folks. That's why our main concerns at the moment center on the return of the warm weather (please!) and what family-friendly movies are on TV tomorrow night.
*P.S. Bonus points if you can identify the source of the quote that makes up the title of this post. :)