Illustration by Shenuka Corea

Amid Kim's Provocation

East Asian students express their feelings on North Korea and Kim Jong-un's policy.

Oct 14, 2017

On Oct. 1, the President of the U.S. tweeted, “Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now?” referring to the 33-year-old North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. On KCNA, the only television channel in North Korea, a stern-faced Kim retorted angrily: “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.” With aggressive rhetoric on both sides, tension in the Korean peninsula does not show signs of mitigation anytime soon.
Kim Jong-un, who has been in power since 2011, has already conducted 88 missile tests, considerably more than the 31 tests performed under the six-decade reign of his father and grandfather. The missile program in North Korea has become an essential component of its regime’s survival.
“Iraq and Libya had made the mistake of giving up their nuclear programs … America then ousted the regime,” said Choe Kang-il, deputy director general for North American affairs at North Korea’s foreign ministry, in an interview with the New York Times. He further said that the lesson was obvious and that North Korea would never negotiate away its nuclear warheads.
South Korea, Japan and the U.S. are increasingly alarmed as North Korea dramatically boosts its missile capacity with longer range and miniaturized nuclear warheads. In recent weeks, North Korea conducted its sixth test of a nuclear bomb and first test of a ballistic missile that could potentially deliver warheads to Guam. The missile flew directly above northern Hokkaido, a northern island of Japan, and landed in the sea after flying 1,700 miles. The unexpected provocation led to confusion and a chaotic evacuation in Japan.
Japanese-American Taiki Sugita, Class of 2018, who did an internship in Japan over the summer, described how the attitude of Japanese people regarding the situation in North Korea has changed after the missile flew over Hokkaido.
“The Japanese people never expected a missile to actually land in Japanese waters. Yes, there have been missile launches in the past, but nothing like this. My co-workers used to say [that] they were more scared of an earthquake than [of] North Korea. But since it landed near the water of Hokkaido, people think Japan should take more serious measures against North Korea,” said Sugita. He also remarked upon growing dissatisfaction in Japan toward the way the Trump administration has dealt with the situation. “The Japanese people, in general, have seen the U.S. as a helpful ally, but [they have recently begun] to feel otherwise. They think Donald Trump is actually provoking Kim Jong-un and just observes the situation as a bystander while the missiles are literally landing on … Japanese soil. People in Japan are a little disappointed in that regard.”
The rapid development of the North Korean missile program has alarmed South Korean students as well. South Korean Peter Si, Class of 2018, expressed his apprehension.
“What [has] changed now is that North Korea has better capability to hit the U.S., Japan and South Korea. And they have a leader who’s far more volatile and irrational. So, unlike [in] the past, I think the North can refuse to back down. Especially given the way Trump deals with North Korea, Kim has a domestically justifiable reason to do so. I’m a little worried,” said Si.
Although Si was personally concerned by the situation, he described how many of the South Koreans back home have grown less sensitive to the situation and do not react as elastically as the international community does.
“South Koreans have seen the cycle of tension and de-escalation for decades. When you expect something after the drastic event [that] doesn’t happen after several times, you can lose the sense of imminence. So, the current situation doesn’t worry many of the South Koreans as much as it does the international community. People still commute and go to school the same as before,” added Si.
The South Korean students also offered their viewpoints on the effectiveness of intensified economic sanctions following recent North Korean provocations.
“I do not believe any sort of sanction against North Korea would be truly effective unless China actually participates,” said Si, expressing his skepticism. South Korean Mina Kim, Class of 2018, conveyed her doubt on both the effectiveness of the sanction, and the justifiability of stopping humanitarian aid.
“North Korea has been affected, but not in a sense that the sanction could ever stop it from developing and launching missiles, and I think humanitarian assists should be considered separately from political agenda. I do agree we need a stronger watchtower when giving out the aid, but the principle of humanitarianism should not fluctuate depending on the political circumstances,” said Kim.
Kim also conveyed her optimism about the North Korean situation in the long-run despite the recent development of nuclear weapons and missiles. “I’ve worked with three North Korean refugees in the past and they told me that there are a lot of changes going on in North Korea. More and more of them have access to foreign broadcasts and get an idea of free market. In that sense, I believe there is hope for political change within North Korea especially since the regime isn’t as stable as it was in the past.”
Kim urged the need for the international community to focus more on people suffering in the hermit nation rather than lampooning Kim Jong-un’s appearance. “I do not feel too comfortable when North Koreans appear in the media in a mocking way because such [an] attitude might belittle the pressing humanitarian issues. The suffering of individuals is often blurred in such contexts. I hope Trump understands this complex situation as a president instead of belittling Kim Jong-un as a Rocket Man and making this whole situation something small. I hope people truly realize [that] there are millions of people suffering behind the scenes.”
Yoon is a contributing writer. Email him at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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