For visiting South Koreans, a perspective to remain calm
MANCHESTER — Threats from North Korea may have the world on edge, but south of the DMZ life goes on as usual, according to five South Korean business representatives who toured several Manchester locations Monday on a visit hosted by the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire.
Joined by two interpreters from the U.S. State Department, the delegation visited state offices in Concord, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and the offices of Dyn networking services in the Millyard to gather information on corporate social responsibility practices. The visit continues today with stops at New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility and Public Service of New Hampshire headquarters, both in Manchester.
The group includes an executive officer from the Korean Human Rights Foundation, representatives of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and managers from businesses like Hyundai Steel.
North Koreans celebrated the birthday of their first leader, Kim Il Sung, on Monday, in what many international observers feared would be the most likely day for a missile launch by the isolated Communist nation. But the South Korean group visiting Manchester had no sense of imminent doom.
They were unanimous in their opinion that Western media have overplayed the dangers.
Sun Jung Ko, manager of corporate social responsibility for Hyundai Steel, said that contrary to media reports, South Koreans are not braced for attack. "I see no difference in my life, currently," she said.
Young-Hoon Na, senior manager for corporate contributions at steel manufacturer POSCO, laughed over the misconceptions as he described life in Paju, near the DMZ. "There is a huge shopping outlet there," he said, "and even as tensions rose over the weekend, there was very heavy traffic in that area. People still rushed to Paju to do their shopping."
Na said South Koreans have become accustomed to the occasional saber rattling from the north.
"Korea has been divided for more than 50 years now, and there hasn't been a significant crisis in that time," he said. "It's kind of like a ticking time bomb, but something you put on the back burner, like when there will be another accident at a U.S. nuclear power plant."
Chul Woo Kim, a manager at the Korean Federation of Small and Medium Business, said his friends and neighbors joke about stocking up on food and emergency supplies, "but it's only a joke," he said. "No one takes it seriously at all."
The greatest impact from the most recent round of sanctions and response, he said, has been the closure of the Kaesong industrial complex on the North Korean side of the border that supported 120 small- to medium-sized businesses.
The factory park generated about $500 million worth of goods a year, and is an example of initiatives that can help maintain stability, said Kim. "We want to encourage North Korea to open up through economic cooperation, not sanctions."
Seon Ae Jeung, who also lives in Paju, joked that she was one of the shoppers rushing to the outlet over the weekend. "I see more concern outside of Korea than inside," she said.
Jeung said that stability in North Korea is what the South Koreans want, not the dismantling of the Pyongyang regime. "One person I met in the U.S. said he wanted to see the collapse of North Korea," she said. "That would actually create more tension and could lead to war. Our focus is, we do not want to create dangers for South Korean citizens. We agree with U.S. Secretary of State Kerry that we all want to live peacefully on the Korean peninsula."
"The current situation, we will overcome it in a smooth manner," she said. "I think the media is aggravating the situation. I agreed to this interview to let people know that South Korea is not worried about the situation, and we do not want North Korea to collapse overnight."
Jungho Park, a researcher at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry Business Institute for Sustainable Development, said the current situation does not present any exceptional danger. To everyday South Koreans, "It's less significant than the recent fluctuations in the South Korean stock market," he said.
The visit was sponsored by the Office of International Visitors, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, in the U.S. State Department.