Living as North Korea's neighbor

On his recent tour of Asia, the United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that pre-emptive military action against North Korea is “on the table” as a response to its leader Kim Jong-Un pursuing a nuclear weapons programme.

The justification for Mr Tillerson’s comments is the apparent threat to South Korea, where the Secretary of State was when he signalled that the US policy of strategic patience with North Korea, pursued by previous President Barack Obama, is at an end. President Donald Trump accuses the Pyongyang regime of “behaving badly”.

One Young World spoke to some of its ambassadors in South Korea to hear what life is like for young people in that country amid this atmosphere of rising political tension.

Despite the concerns of American leaders, Minwoo Kim, a One Young World ambassador, denies that he and his peers have any fear of the North Korean military.
“Frankly speaking, nobody cares about North Korea in South Korea. It is almost like asking a Californian ‘How can you live in California with the potential danger of having earthquakes?’"

Kim, who attended One Young World’s 2015 in Bangkok, argues that South Koreans “do not even think of [North Korea] as a threat” and see no prospect of conflict. “Most people in South Korea know there will not be any war happening as it is a lose-lose situation for North and South Korea.”

His chief concern is that Kim Jong-un’s regime is being used as a political lever by “extreme conservatives trying to scare the public by saying the North can attack us at any moment”.

The recent forcing from office of South Korea’s President Park Geun-Hye after a corruption scandal has amplified such political rhetoric but young people remain unconcerned by Pyongyang, he claims. “The majority, especially those aged in their Twenties, do not think North Korea as a threat in any circumstances.”

Other One Young World ambassadors are reluctant to speak publicly on the current climate but forwarded anonymous comments. One notes that despite a long succession of political upheavals in South Korea, North Korea has never taken military action. “It’s been more than six decades [since] the Korean War (1950-1953), and we’ve learned from experience that North Korea has no intention of starting a full-scale war again.”

This young commentator also talks of a “McCarthyism” in South Korean politics whereby conservatives, exploit North Korea’s military capabilities to accuse their opponents of being sympathisers for Pyongyang.

But a third One Young World source states that “most parties across the political spectrum and most of the public” do consider the North Korean missile and nuclear threats to be “serious”. The impeachment of Park Geun-hye and the Presidential election scheduled for May make it “likely” that South Korea will be “more willing to talk and negotiate with North Korea”, this correspondent argues, while at the same time expressing “doubt that there will be a major change in the security situation on the [Korean] peninsular”.

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