Published : 2013-03-18 19:45
Updated : 2013-03-18 19:45
North Korea appears to know no limit to its bellicose rhetoric against South Korea. A commentary carried by the North’s state news agency Saturday warned South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won would be the “first target to be mowed down.”
The latest threat from Pyongyang came in response to Chung’s visit to a border island two days earlier, when he told soldiers to hit back “with force 10 times” the size of any possible provocations by North Korea. The island of Yeonpyeongdo, located near the disputed maritime border in the West Sea, was bombarded by the North’s artillery in November 2010. Two Marines and two civilian residents were killed. The shelling came eight months after a North Korean submarine’s torpedo sank a South Korean naval vessel in the waters off nearby Baengnyeongdo Island, causing the deaths of 46 sailors.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un oversaw artillery exercises last week, which targeted the two South Korean frontline islands, ordering his soldiers to be ready for war. Pyongyang has been ratcheting up war rhetoric almost daily in response to the U.N. Security Council’s tougher sanctions for its third nuclear test in February and ongoing South Korea-U.S. annual joint military drills. It has threatened to shred the Armistice Agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, nullify other nonaggression pacts with Seoul and launch a preemptive nuclear strike.
The possibility cannot be ruled out that the North will actually make further provocative acts. Calculating how far they could push their brinkmanship, the young North Korean ruler and his military aides may anticipate that their bellicose rhetoric and threatening behavior will result in amplifying security anxiety among the South Korean public.
There has not been the kind of panic that prompted people to empty store shelves in 1994 after a North Korean official threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire” during inter-Korean talks on exchanging special envoys. Some observers still note there are signs of creeping public concerns, citing an increase, though temporary, in sales of canned food and instant noodles in online marketplaces early this month.
This observation, however, does not seem to accurately reflect the prevailing sentiment among the South Korean public, especially the unflinching attitude shown by young people. According to the Military Manpower Administration, the number of college students applying to join the military service more than doubled from a year earlier to 7,306 in January and February. This phenomenon is a reminder of what happened in the wake of the naval ship sinking and the artillery shelling on Yeonpyeongdo Island. Far from wincing back at the provocations, a larger number of South Korean youths applied to become Navy sailors or Marine troops.
Some Defense Ministry officials see the recent flocking of college students to serve the military duty as probably reflecting their patriotism prompted by North Korea’s threatening rhetoric and behavior. Their interpretation may be too simplistic, as the increase in the number of military applicants can also be attributed to the economic hardships gripping many young people. But it is still certain that South Korean youths are far from avoiding or postponing their military service at a time of mounting tensions with the North. What is also encouraging is that a growing number of young South Koreans with permanent residency in foreign countries, who are not subject to the mandatory duty, return home to serve it out.
A recent survey of high school students showed Pyongyang’s provocative acts and war rhetoric have only led them to be more resolute ― rather than self-defeating ― against its security threats. More than 53 percent of about 3,200 respondents regarded North Korea as the country’s main enemy and nearly half said they would be willing to fight in a war against the North, up from the 22 percent and 19.5 percent recorded in a previous survey two years ago.
It is regrettable that some military and administrative officials have failed to show an example to young people. Proper measures should be taken against dozens of military officers, including several generals, who were found to have played golf over a weekend earlier this month when they should have been on standby amid escalating tensions with the North. It was also insensible for the county head administering the frontline islands to be on an overseas trip when the North Korean leader was ordering his soldiers to be ready to attack them.