“The way North Korea has been acting recently is kind of part of our life in Korea.”
Young-hun Kim, ECU professor
By Jane Dail
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Korean residents in Pitt County are watching closely as tensions in the world’s last divided country have risen in the wake of belligerent acts and threatening rhetoric from North Korea’s president.
With reports of two missiles deployed on North Korea’s east coast and President Kim Jung Un’s threats targeted at the United States, the U.S. military and South Korea have begun making defensive preparations.
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But for many Koreans, these shows of aggression have become a part of life that often can be shrugged off, though not ignored.
Korean residents in the area have kept a close eye on the situation as little is known about North Korea’s new leader, who took power a little more than a year ago, though they often have seen similar threatening rhetoric and threats during the 60 years since the Korean War.
East Carolina University political science professor Young-hun Kim carefully watches developments in his homeland, but said he is not too concerned right now. Kim said every couple of years he visits South Korea, where most of his family lives, and he has never felt unsafe traveling there.
“A lot of my American students complain, ‘Hey, something’s going on in Korea. Is it OK there?’ ” Young-hun Kim said. “I call my family and everything is fine. … So there’s very different perspectives.”
Young-hun Kim said many believe the threats from leader Kim Jung Un are empty ones, and that he may be trying to flex his muscles and show off to the people.
“The way North Korea has been acting recently is kind of part of our life in Korea,” Kim said. “They have been doing that way for so many years. There’s nothing new, that’s why we don’t really react as Americans do.”
Byung Lee, for many years a Tae Kwon Do instructor in Winterville, frequently visits South Korea, where most of his family still lives, often traveling there with his students so they can immerse themselves in Korean culture.
Lee compared North Korea to a problem child acting up to get attention, as it continues to lose backing from allies.
“Many of the Korean people, we worry about it, but we worry less than American people worry about it, because it has been going on so long and Korean people have gotten used to it,” he said. “… If they just give one punch, South Korea or America will give 10 punches back.”
The Rev. Gun Ho Lee, Korean fellowship pastor at Peace Presbyterian Church in Winterville, said he has seen this pattern before with North Korea’s previous leaders.
“Many specialists say their bluff is too much, too high, intense and now all-out war is pronounced,” he said. “I still think that is kind of bluffing, but who knows. Our concern is a little higher, but the pattern was repeated many times.”
As unpredictable and aggressive as North Korea can be, Young-hun Kim said Kim Jung Un’s priority is to sustain his regime.
“He wouldn’t do anything reckless in sacrifice of regime stability,” Kim said. “He knows that very clearly if he starts first … by attacking South Korea or some territories of the U.S., that means the end of his regime.”
Byung Lee had the rare opportunity to visit North Korea in 2005 for a Tae Kwon Do function and saw first-hand the country’s military training.
Even with a sizable force of 1.2 million, according to U.S. Department of Defense estimates, he said North Korea would be crushed.
“It doesn’t look like they are ready for fighting or wars,” he said.
Despite decades of separation, Byung Lee said he still feels a strong connection to the North Korean people.
“I feel like they are my brothers and sisters, I am attached to them,” he said “I hope that we can meet again like brothers and sisters, not like enemies.”
Gun Ho Lee said his wife’s family comes from the North, though she grew up in the South after the country split.
Reunification has been a hot topic since Korea split in the 1950s, but he said as the years pass, it becomes less of a priority to the younger generations.
“I don’t know if it’s possible or not,” he said. “When I was growing up, everybody was really gung ho for reunification, but they (did) not agree about how. … Still, people are eager to see that thing happen. Practically, politically, economically it’s getting more difficult.”
Young-hun Kim said reunification could happen either because of internal collapse of the government or nationwide revolution, though neither are likely to happen soon.
“I’m less optimistic as of today about the future of the Korean peninsula in terms of reunification than I was 20 or 30 years ago,” he said.
Kim said every step should be made to avoid war.
“War or military conflict should be something we have to avoid, no matter what,” he said. “I hope the current crisis doesn’t develop to real crisis.
“I would keep my fingers crossed.”
Contact Jane Dail at email@example.com or 252-329-9585.
via The Daily Reflector.