North Korea's Nuclear Test Old Hat for South Koreans

North Korea confirmed on February 12 that it had conducted its third nuclear test, drawing condemnation from the international community and escalating the already heightened tension in East Asia.

The blast, which is the first nuclear test under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, was estimated to be about half as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb, but with more explosive power than the country's previous two tests.

For some South Koreans, living in the shadow of their now three-time nuclear neighbor to the north, the news was cause for anger and alarm. For others, such as @capcold on Twitter, it meant that another tired cycle of negotiations, diplomatic talks, and economic sanctions was set to begin.

North Korean Army

Soldiers from the Korean People's Army look south while on duty in the Joint Security Area. Photo by U.S. Army.

@capcold: 북한에서 진도 5.1 인공지진 감지[…]다시 무력시위에 나선 깡패국가를 상대로 골치아픈 외교국면에 돌입.

@capcold: They have detected the 5.1 magnitude of seismic activities in North Korea. Once again, we have entered this heckling diplomatic (talk/negotiation) phase against this rouge nation who is flexing its muscles against us.

Unsurprisingly, many South Korean net users took a hawkish stance, with some blaming previous administrations for employing the dovish, Sunshine policy toward the North Korea.

@yoonjujin: 북한의 핵은 체제 방어용이든 협상용이든, 그게 중요한게 아닙니다. 핵이 대한민국을 겨냥하고 있으며, 안보를 위협하고 있다는 것이 중요한 것입니다. 그걸 애써 외면하면서, 김정은에게 잘해주면 핵을 포기할 것 같이 말하는 것은 심각한 왜곡이자 교란입니다.

@yoonjujin: It doesn't matter any more whether North Korea developed its nuclear weapons to protect itself or to use as a negotiation card. What matters is that it is targeting South Korea and threatening our national security. Don't try to neglect this fact and confuse us by distorting facts, by saying if we act all good to Kim Jong-un, then he will abandon nuclear.

@freedomnorth: 김씨 왕조가 자기들이 파묻힐 구덩이를 확실하게 파고 있습니다. 인민들은 당장 먹고 살아야 하는데 핵실험을 강행하다니, 이런 자들에게 식량과 현금을 묻지마 퍼준 대가입니다. 북한을 도와주지 않아서 인민이 어려운 것이 아니라 저래서 안되는 것입니다.

@freedomnorth: The Kim dynasty is planning its own funeral. They went on enforcing a nuclear test while their own people are suffering from food shortage. This is the consequence we earn after giving all that food and financial aid to them so generously. It is not the lack of aid that threatens the lives of those North Korean people, but it is this system (of North Korean regime using aid to develop nuclear programs) that caused this situation.

The current administration, which has taken a tough stance on North Korea, also came under fire. Several hours after North Korea launched its nuclear test, news broke that South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was awarded the highest government honor despite numerous allegations of corruption being made against members of his inner circle.

@nabiwahighill: 북한이 핵폭탄실험 준비하는 시간에, 퇴임앞둔 MB 스스로 자신의 공적을치하해 훈장수여를 의결하고, 최시중 천신일 박희태 측근, 친인척과 사주까지 풀어주고,집권 5년간 대한민국을 위해 한게없다.

@nabiwahighill: While North Korea was busy preparing for its nuclear test, what President Lee Myung-bak did before retirement was to pass a bill granting himself the medal of state honor for his contribution to the country and letting all of his inner circle and relatives go free and unscathed, such as Choi Si-Joong, Cheon Shin-il, Park Hee-tae [who are accused of corruption]. What has he really done for this country during his five years in office?

As time passed, commentary on Twitter toned down. @drpyo expressed concerns over extreme right-wing groups taking advantage of the situation to persecute liberals and the government's critics.

@drpyo:북한 핵실험 빙자해 50~60년대 식 ‘빨갱이 때려잡자’ 선동하며 사회혼란 야기하는 자, 국익 저해하고 북한 이롭게 하는 자들입니다. 겉으론 보수, 애국, 반공 부르짖을 지 몰라도 그 결과와 효과는 북한 의도에 부응하는 것이며 북한 이롭게 합니다.

@drpyo: There are people trying to create a commotion and incite people by using the North Korea nuclear test as a leverage to ‘beat up the commies’ as they did back in the 1950s and 60s- those people actually cause harm to our country and benefit North Korea. They would chant conservatism, patriotism, and anti-communism, they play right into North Korea's hands.

However, a significant number of South Koreans, so accustomed to news of North Korea's nuclear ambitions, were eerily indifferent; while North Korea's nuclear test dominated international headlines, in South Korea a cosmetic company's half-price promotion deal ranked above [ko] the North Korea's nuclear test in a list of the most searched words of the largest web portal. The tension between the two Koreas is nothing new, stretching for more than 60 years since the Korean war ended in a truce.

@judefri: 북한 핵실험: 역시 선택과 집중에 탁월한 국가.문제는 당장 내일 그걸 쏘겠다고 해도내일 출근해서 점심에 뭐 먹을지 고민할 사람이 더 많다는 거겠지.북핵보다 무서운 게 매너리즘이란 말도 있잖아.

@judefri: North Korea nuclear test: They are so good at the “choose and focus” strategy. South Korea's problem is that even if they threatened to detonate the nuclear bomb tomorrow, we will still regularly show up at our work and worry more about what to eat for lunch than the nuclear issue. That is why people say the familiarity could be a worse enemy than the nuclear test.

For a more complete history of North Korea's nuclear program, take a look at this interactive timeline from The New York Times.


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