Foreign residents in South Korea largely remained calm after North Korea’s nuclear test Sunday, although some expressed deepening worries over the escalating military standoff between the North and the US.
Most foreigners here continue to see large-scale military conflict as improbable, despite the dramatic increase in military tensions.
Yann Dumont, 21, a French student who has lived here for three years, said he doesn’t feel anything special about Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear weapons detonation.
“It is business as usual and there is condemnation as usual,” he told The Korea Herald. “I think that the leader Kim Jong-un is doing everything (the regime) can to survive, and a war is not likely because it would not be the path to ensure their survival.”
Amit Arora, a 30-year-old Indian national living in Busan, also said that she was not concerned.
“To be frank, it is not the first time North Korea has been behaving like that,” she said.
Pyongyang said Sunday it had tested a hydrogen bomb that could be loaded onto a long-range missile. The test caused an earthquake of magnitude 5.7, with tremors felt in South Korea and China.
Despite worrying messages surging in from friends and family members back home, expats said life in the South continues as normal, as South Koreans have a long history of dealing with constant nuclear and missile threats from the northern neighbor.
Brandon Knodel, a 28-year-old student from the US, said that he is more worried about his own President Donald Trump, who appears to be hardening his rhetoric against the North and dismissing its provocations as simply “crazy.”
Hours after North Korea carried out the nuclear test, President Trump denounced the test as hostile and dangerous via Twitter. He added that the US was considering stopping all trade with any country that does business with North Korea.
Trump also threatened to pull out of the countries’ bilateral free-trade agreement, saying “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!”
“But the military has shown they have their own agenda and are working closely with South Korean and Japanese leaders to find real solutions. Trump doesn‘t have complete power, but words matter, and that is what worries me,” Knodel said.
There are about 30,000 US troops stationed in South Korea and the country falls under the US nuclear umbrella. In return, the South is banned from building its own nuclear weapons under an agreement struck in 1974.
“I’m not worried about my safety because I believe it is in both countries’ best interest to maintain peace,” Knodel added. “My only fear is if they do not take proper precautions and radiation gets into the atmosphere and effects nearby areas, like Seoul.”
A 36-year-old man from New Zealand, who has lived here for 11 years, expressed similar concerns.
“I am very concerned that the North is still developing its nuclear arsenal, but I don‘t see this as changing the dynamics greatly,” he said. “I am concerned that there has been a lack of diplomatic approaches, particularly from the key player, the US. Trump’s responses have been erratic and hard to predict.”
Foreign workers from nearby Southeast Asian countries, who are largely here on low-skilled work visas, were also rather unaffected by the situation, but some of the newer workers here were worried about possible war, said an official from Korea‘s first migrant workers’ union.
“North Korea always does that, so we are not taking it too seriously. But continued news reports on the North on TV concerns some migrant workers who were here for a short time and are not used to the situation,” said a Bangladeshi official Shekh al-Mamun.
“Mostly, migrant workers access news through their own channels in their own languages. In the process of translating news on North Korea from Korean into their own languages, the information often gets distorted and it heightens their worries,” he said.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org