April 9, 2013


[The Korea Tourism Organization said the latest torrent of North Korean threats has so far had little effect on tourism, with the number of Chinese tourists doubling during a vacation week last week, said Lee Kwang-soo, a spokesman. Still, it was taking precautionary measures reaching out to foreign tourist agencies to inform them that it was safe to visit South Korea, he said.]

By Choe Sang-Hun

SEOUL — North Korea warned on Tuesday that foreigners in South Korea should look for shelter or consider evacuating because the Korean Peninsula was on the brink of nuclear war. But the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, said she remained determined not to succumb to Pyongyang's attempts to escalate tensions to extract concessions from the South.
The North’s warning followed a similar advisory last week in which it told foreign embassies in Pyongyang to devise evacuation plans.
“The situation on the Korean Peninsula is inching close to a thermonuclear war due to the evermore undisguised hostile actions of the United States and the South Korean puppet warmongers,” the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, a North Korean state agency, said in a statement on Tuesday. “It does not want to see foreigners in South Korea fall victim to the war.”
In South Korea, where people have long grown used to a North Korean bluster or learned to shut themselves off from a situation out of their control, there was few if any signs of anxiety following the warning. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul said that the State Department’s travel notice on South Korea remained unchanged on Tuesday.
“Despite current political tensions with North Korea there is no specific information to suggest there are imminent threats to U.S. citizens or facilities in the Republic of Korea,” said the travel message, which was last updated on Friday, using the official name of South Korea. “The Embassy has not changed its security posture and we have not recommended that U.S. citizens who reside in, or plan to visit, the Republic of Korea take special security precautions at this time.”
The Korea Tourism Organization said the latest torrent of North Korean threats has so far had little effect on tourism, with the number of Chinese tourists doubling during a vacation week last week, said Lee Kwang-soo, a spokesman. Still, it was taking precautionary measures reaching out to foreign tourist agencies to inform them that it was safe to visit South Korea, he said.
“This is not the first time North Korea acts like this,” said Song Hyun-seok, an official at the South Korean office of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Gloria Lee, a spokeswoman at Lotte Hotel, one of South Korea’s biggest hotel chains, reported a 30 percent drop in Japanese guests this year but assigned the problem not to North Korea but to the weakening Japanese yen and fraying political ties between South Korea and Japan.
But DMZ Tour Corp., a company that specializes in taking tourists to the heavily militarized border with North Korea to experience one of the world’s last reminders of Cold War tensions, has seen its business shrink in recent weeks.
“We have foreign tourists calling us to ask whether it’s safe to go to the border,” Yoo Jae-sung, a company official, said, declining to reveal how many tourists his company lost to the tensions. “Yesterday, a group of Australian tourists had a vote among themselves after agreeing that if any one of them was afraid to go to the border, they would cancel the trip. They went.”
South Korean officials and analysts said North Korea was extremely unlikely to start a war. Rather, they said, its warning was psychological warfare aimed at heightening a sense of crisis to rattle investors’ confidence in the South’s globalized economy and force Washington and its allies to return to the negotiating table. In that vein, the North may launch a medium-range missile this week, they said.
On Tuesday, President Park rebutted North Korea’s escalating pressure tactics by vowing to break the pattern of rewarding North Korea for its bad behavior with compromises and economic assistance.
“How long are we going to repeat this vicious cycle where the North Koreans create tensions and we give them compromises and aid?” she told a Cabinet meeting called a day after the North pulled out all its 54,000 workers from the Kaesong industrial park jointly run with the South.
The North Korean withdrawal of workers from Kaesong on Monday effectively shuttered the last remaining example of inter-Korean cooperation, one that had survived for eight years despite military tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula. North Korea said the Kaesong Industrial Complex, located in the North Korean town of the same name, can reopen only when the South changed its “attitude.”
“North Korea must stop its wrong behavior and make a right choice for the future of the Korean nation,” Ms. Park said, accusing the North of flouting inter-Korean agreements to protect investments. “If the North breaks international norms and promises like this, which country and which business will invest in the North?”
Since it produced its first products in late 2004, the Kaesong factory park, located just north of the western edge of the inter-Korean border, has shown how the two Koreas could use economic cooperation to overcome decades of political hostilities, signaling hope for an eventual reunification. The two Koreas breached their heavily armed border, clearing mine fields and pushing back military encampments, to build a cross-border road and rail line that linked Kaesong and Seoul. Since then, hundreds of South Koreans and trucks had rumbled through a border crossing each day, shipping out textiles and other labor-intensive goods from 123 South Korean factories in Kaesong made with low-cost North Korean labor.
North Korea said it was forced to consider shutting down Kaesong because of tensions heightened by routine U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises and the United Nations sanctions imposed for its Feb. 12 nuclear test.
Analysts and officials here agreed that the young and relatively inexperienced North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, was exploiting the current situation to boost his standing with the military, divert attention from domestic economic failures and make the outside world used to his country’s status as a nuclear weapons state.
North Korea’s ceaseless efforts to ratchet up tensions magnified the challenge faced by the new South Korean leader.
Ms. Park, South Korea’s first female president, who has called the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher her role model, campaigned for her December election with a North Korea policy dubbed “trustpolitik.”
In its essence, it copies Washington’s “strategic patience” approach: if the North wins the trust of Seoul and Washington — by de-escalating tensions and expressing a seriousness to negotiate away its nuclear weapons — it will get the dialogue, respect and economic assistance it desperately needs, but its provocations will be met only with more sanctions and isolation.
As part of a trust-building process, she has offered to de-link humanitarian aid from political tensions. Her approach was seen as more flexible than her predecessor and fellow conservative, Lee Myung-bak. But it fell far short of the North Korean demand for the lifting of the trade embargo South Korea had imposed in 2010 when it blamed the North for the sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors. The North denied responsibility.
Ms. Park faces a delicate political balancing act in South Korea, where voters remain angry over the North’s recent provocations, including its artillery attack on a South Korean island in 2010, but also have grown weary of a prolonged political deadlock between the two Koreas under Mr. Lee.
On Tuesday, Ms. Park’s spokesman, Yoon Chang-jung, denied local media reports that the government has drawn up plans to shut down Kaesong.
“Our position remains unchanged that the Kaesong complex should remain in operation,” he said.