A verbal warning from U.S. President Donald Trump threatening “fire and fury” against North Korea, and subsequent remarks from Pyongyang to create an “enveloping fire” around the U.S. territory of Guam is raising concerns in South Korea.
But South Koreans who spoke to UPI on Wednesday said war on the Korean peninsula is highly unlikely, pointing to past experience with similar or even higher levels of tension with their belligerent neighbor to the north.
Park Seong-yeong, a civic activist with the Coalition 4.16 on the Sewol Ferry Disaster, told UPI the heated exchanges between Trump and the Kim Jong Un regime are problematic.
“I don’t think there will be war on the Korean peninsula, nor is it likely, but both sides are choosing to raise tensions and that is not an optimal situation,” Park said. “Without the least delay the United States and North Korea, using peaceful methods at the dialogue table, should initiate a discussion.”
Concerns about North Korea’s weapons program spiked after The Washington Post reported Tuesday that U.S. intelligence agencies surmise North Korea has the capability to miniaturize a warhead that could be fitted on one of its missiles.
Park said he is opposed to North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, but added he is unfazed by North Korea’s harsh rhetoric.
“North Korea’s forceful threats don’t bring about changes,” Park said. “The maximum allowable amount of talks and negotiations is the best way of resolving tensions.”
Others see Trump’s rhetoric playing a role in intensifying the threat of war on the peninsula, rather than diminishing Pyongyang’s provocations.
Lee Eul-hyeon, a member of the People’s Democracy Party, a progressive group, told UPI Trump’s approach to North Korea is not helpful.
“In newspapers here, I also see a lot of contradictions between Trump and the U.S. State Department,” Lee said. “They don’t always agree.”
Lee said the United States and North Korea should sign a peace treaty to end the current armistice, established after the 1950-53 Korean War. He added Pyongyang’s weapons development might be a defensive measure.
“I am overall against the development of nuclear weapons, but the United States has more weapons of mass destruction,” Lee said. “If you look at it from North Korea’s perspective, you can only feel insecure.”
Lee, having lived through cycles of escalating tensions before Trump assumed office in January, agreed war is unlikely on the peninsula, despite North Korea’s weapons development.
“If you think about it, we make great preparations for events that are unlikely to occur, like automobile accidents, with insurance, for example,” Lee said. “Likewise, conflict on the peninsula is unlikely because of factors already in place.”
Lee added the annual U.S.-South Korea joint exercises, however, worsen the “atmosphere on the peninsula.”
Many older South Koreans who experienced the devastation of the Korean War see no problems with the joint drills, or the continued deployment of U.S. strategic bombers to South Korea.
Seon Myeong-yeon, 71, said he is “in favor of joint U.S.-South Korea exercises.”
“The U.S. bombers must be deployed,” Seon said. “North Korea is developing nuclear weapons.”
Seon also suggested Trump’s recent North Korea remarks are being made for strategic reasons.
“More than issuing a threat, I think [Trump] is trying to exert pressure on Kim Jong Un,” Seon said. “I don’t think there will be a nuclear war. I’m not scared.”
Seon also dismissed North Korea’s threat to target Guam as an exaggeration.
“Whoever issued that threat [in the North] was probably under the influence of rice wine,” he said. “They can’t attack the United States. They’re weaker than a mouse before a tiger!”
Trump’s less tactful approach to North Korea threats is a warning to Kim, Seon said.
“Trump won’t leave Kim in peace,” Seon said, referring to the recent and past statements from the U.S. president. “Look at what the United States did to Saddam Hussein. They tracked him down to a hole in the ground.”