SEOUL — Residents in South Korea’s capital have adopted a nonchalant, if not defiant, attitude about the barrage of threats from the North, even as the U.S. and the South plan a forceful but limited military response to any attack from North Korea.
All types of commercial enterprises carry on unabated, entertainment districts and traditional markets bustle with the usual crowds, and the city’s notorious traffic is as snarled as ever.
Indeed, it is difficult to find any ordinary South Korean reacting to the longest-running stream of threats and bellicose rhetoric from Pyongyang in recent memory.
“I am not frightened. That’s it,” said Kim Mi-hyun a 38-year-old public relations executive. “This kind of activity has always happened, and days or weeks later, everything goes quiet. We don’t see this as very serious.”
Kang Seok-jae, 50, an official with the World Taekwondo Federation, said, “We don’t think there is going to be an attack, but we are strong enough to defend ourselves. … We are used to this, we know the reality of North Korea. It’s part of their brinkmanship.”
On Monday, the isolated communist nation suspended operations at a major North Korean industrial complex run jointly with South Korea and located north of the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas. The move to close the Kaesong complex temporarily threatens the jobs of 53,000 North Koreans.
That action follows weeks of North Korean threats to attack the South, as well as the United States.
Also Monday, the Obama administration applauded efforts by China and Russia to discourage North Korea from its threats to conduct a missile launch or to commit other military provocations.
“We welcome efforts by Beijing and Moscow to encourage Pyongyang to refrain from provocative rhetoric and threats,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “We will continue to work with our Chinese, Russian and other partners to get North Korea to abide by its international obligations.”
The dynastic regime of Kim Jong-un, the third member of his family to lead North Korea, has revved up vitriolic state propaganda to new heights. But not a single bullet has been fired at South Korea under his leadership.
His grandfather, Kim Il-sung, launched the Korean War, oversaw commando raids against the South and seized the spy ship USS Pueblo. His father, Kim Jong-il, masterminded a range of deadly espionage, terrorist and naval operations against South Korea.
Absent any killing and with no reports of North Korean troop or equipment movements expected to herald a major attack, Seoul residents maintain a blase attitude, even living within artillery range of the heavily militarized Korean border 35 miles to their north.
Opinion polls show that long-range public confidence in national security remains steady at about 60 percent, said Karl Friedhoff, who oversees public opinion research at the Asan Institute think tank in Seoul.
“The South Korean public looks at this as part of a cycle,” he said. “South Koreans think North Korea has decided it needs to get paid, and think this is how this situation will be resolved.”
Still, there are some signs of unease.