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Asia

Mixed reactions to Pyongyang's provocations in South Korea

North Korea's bombardment of a South Korean island has been condemned all over the world. Many South Koreans have mixed feelings over how their government should respond to the incident.

South Koreans are in two minds about how their government should react

South Koreans are in two minds about how their government should react

In a phone call with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, US President Barack Obama pledged his nation's support in preventing more provocations from Pyongyang on Wednesday.

The shelling of Yeongpyeong Island on Tuesday, which killed two South Korean marines and two civilians, is one of the most serious firefights to take place between the two Koreas in decades.

Some South Koreans, such as 64-year-old Lee Cheon-gu, are very angry about the bloodshed. "The reason North Korea keeps making these provocations is that the South Korean government is too lenient," he says.

"Seoul has not been strong enough to prevent more attacks from the North after the sinking of the Cheonan," he says. This attack, which international investigators blame on a North Korean torpedo, resulted in the death of 46 sailors in March. Pyongyang has denied any involvement.

US President Barack Obama has assured Seoul of support

US President Barack Obama has assured Seoul of support

Part of succession game

Some analysts say that Tuesday's attack might have something to do with the power transition that is currently underway in the North.

However, Brian Myers, the author of the "The Cleanest Race, How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters," thinks this is probably a secondary reason.

But he concedes that all is not well: "We have heard reports from North Korea that many citizens there are not comfortable with the succession; they are not happy with the way the so-called young general is being presented. We have heard reports of anti-regime graffiti popping up on walls."

Fears about financial ramifications

Other South Koreans seem less concerned with the reasons behind Tuesday’s deadly attack than about the financial ramifications.

Villagers watched as smoke rose from South Korea's Yeonpyeong island on Tuesday

Villagers watched as smoke rose from South Korea's Yeonpyeong island on Tuesday

35-year-old Lee Jin-woo does not think "this incident will result in a war between South and North Korea. Many incidents like this have happened before. I am just worried it will hurt the economy here and the stock market."

Some do not even believe Seoul's account of what happened on Yeonpyeong. One young woman, who did not want to give her name, said she did not trust her government.

"I am not so sure that North Korea is really responsible for starting the fires on the island," she said, adding that she was "sympathetic to the North and would wait for more information before deciding on the truth."

Koreans have a sense of allegiance to the nation

Brian Myers thought this general apathy among South Koreans or outright denial of North Korea's involvement in attacks could undermine Seoul’s attempts to unify the people against the Kim Jong-il regime.

"The people here feel much more of a sense of allegiance to the nation, in other words, the Korean race, than they do to South Korea as a separate republicm," he explained.

"So when North Korea attacks South Korean territory, they do not feel like they’ve been violated by a foreign power. Instead they feel that the governments of Pyongyang and Seoul have had a disagreement or perhaps a misunderstanding of some kind."

However, for Seoul and Washington, there is no misunderstanding about what took place. Next week, as a show of strength, the two will hold joint naval drills in the Yellow Sea, which includes a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

Author: Jason Strother (Seoul)
Editor: Anne Thomas

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