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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

On Korean Peninsula, South Koreans and Foreigners React to Tensions

A South Korean soldier standing guard in Paju near the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas.Jung Yeon-Je/Agence France-Presse â€" Getty Images A South Korean soldier standing guard in Paju near the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas.

The North Korean government has hinted at new military provocations in the coming days, testing global leaders and consuming headlines almost everywhere. Last week, we asked readers who live on the Korean Peninsula or have family members there to weigh in on how the escalating tensions affect them and what the South Korean government and the international community should do to address those tensions. You can still join the discussion by submitting a comment in the thread below, in English or Korean, or post your thoughts on Twitter, with the hashtag #NYTWorld. We will update this post with a selection of views.

So far, we have heard from readers around the world, including about two dozen with ties to South Korea. Expatriates living in South Korea said that there were few signs of anxiety, but that they would remain cautious. North Korea warned Tuesday that foreigners living in the South should evacuate because the country was on the brink of nuclear war.

“Though the Korean people do take the threats seriously, they are not hiding in bunkers and waiting for the attack,” Angela, an American living in Suwon, South Korea, for almost three years, told us. “They are living day-to-day lives and doing the best that they can while also encouraging expat friends to do the same; so we do, but we are also cautious.”

On Facebook, Tiffany Conner, who lives in Pyeongtaek, said: “If anything, I should be exceptionally preoccupied by the prospect of any attack as I am sandwiched between two U.S. military bases. But again, there’s no palpable sense of urgency or concern to be had.”

Britny Montano, an expat living in Seoul, said on Facebook, “All of my family and friends keep telling me to fly home but until the State Department advises us to evacuate or an attack does occur I don’t foresee myself leaving.”

A few people on Facebook, including Ms. Montano and Jee-hyae Chung, a native South Korean, said that coverage of the North’s bellicose threats was more intense in the news media internationally than in South Korea.

Of the South Korean news media, Ms. Jee said: “Attitudes reflected from conservative media and progressive media may be different, but one thing they have in common is that they do not emphasize any imminent or substantial sense of threat. More attention seems to be given on assessing the performance of the new administration” of President Park Geun-hye.

But for some South Koreans who have faced decades of on-and-off threats from the North, the recent rhetoric and the matching show of military power by the United States and South Korea are becoming hard to ignore.

“All my family, especially my wife, are anxious about the war for weeks now, and I persuade them that it is not plausible since the South have spent far more money for military expenses and South Korean Army is stronger than the North,” wrote a New York Times reader from Seoul.

Another reader, who identified himself as TJ from Seoul, wrote that young Korean men were taking their mandatory military service more seriously.

“This year I also went to my reserve military training, and I saw people, including myself, did their best to get a training, and it was not usual scene before,” TJ said.

Melinda Pangburn Shulz, a teacher at an international school on Jeju Island, said on Facebook that her students “do not know if the current situation is something to worry about or not, but they are worried just the same.”

Few readers commented on the United States’ support for South Korea, but one said that the South should not depend on the United States to defend it and that the time had come for the South to build its own nuclear weapons. Several said they thought China should take a more central role in the dispute, including supporting the imposition of United Nations sanctions on North Korea. But readers also highlighted China’s concern about the United States reasserting itself in Asia.

Angela from Suwon said: “The scariest thing is that Kim Jong-un is a new, young leader and is unpredictable. However, I have to believe that he simply must see the horrible impact it would have on his country if he decided to move forward with any attacks on South Korea or the United States.”