Escalating tensions between North Korea and President Donald Trump have prompted mixed reaction among Korean expatriates in Metro Detroit.
While threats from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un aren’t new, some said the rhetoric from both sides over advances in the country’s nuclear weapons that are nearing the ability to target the United States has raised the conflict to a new level.
“I was worried so much,” said Denise Lee, who taught a youth group Sunday morning at the Korean Presbyterian Church of Metro Detroit in Southfield and has two siblings in South Korea. “I have watched CNN a lot. It just seems to be more intense.”
Lee said she’s concerned Trump’s aggressive response could push the North Korean leader into rash action.
“You can pinch him a little but don’t go so hard,” said Lee, who came to the United States from South Korea in the 1990s.
Others among Metro Detroit’s some 17,000 Korean or Korean-Americans applauded Trump’s bellicose behavior. While previous administrations have been more measured, Trump’s language with North Korea is more fiery, something Bruce Park of Rochester appreciates.
“Do it! Show him,” said Park, who was born in South Korea and publishes a local Korean newspaper. “That is the best way to stop (Kim). Someone has to show him that threatening with nuclear weapons is not going to work.”
Tensions grew further when North Korea announced late last week a plan to launch missiles toward Guam, a tiny U.S. territory and major military hub about 2,000 miles from the North’s capital. Trump responded, boasting that the U.S. military “locked and loaded” and warned that Kim “will regret it fast” if he takes any action against U.S. territories or allies.
Senior U.S. national security officials say a military confrontation with North Korea’s isn’t imminent. But they’re also saying that the possibility of war with the reclusive Asian nation is greater than it was a decade ago.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo said there’s “nothing imminent today” on “Fox News Sunday” but said North Korea’s push to develop a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States “is a very serious threat and the administration is going to treat it as such.”
Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, told ABC’s “This Week” that “we’re not closer to war than a week ago, but we are closer to war than we were a decade ago.”
The saber-rattling wasn’t too alarming to other Metro Detroit Koreans and hasn’t risen to even a topic of social media discussions in most Korean and Korean-American communities, some said
“We feel nervous about this but (Kim’s) words are pretty empty,” said the Rev. Seung Wong Yu on Sunday while preparing for his Sunday service at Korean Presbyterian Church. “We have experienced this so many times.”
Yu’s father was born in North Korea and left the country for South Korea in his 20s. He said his uncle and grandfather were killed in the country.
Yu said he’d prefer Trump tone down his aggressive response but “I think we need something like that for North Korea.”
“We need to stop them from developing these atomic bombs,” he said.
The threat comes as Koreans prepare to celebrate a holiday Tuesday commemorating the United States and the Soviet Union liberation of Korea from Japanese rule in 1945.
Few South Koreans and Korean-Americans would agree with a military attack on Korean peninsula, said Young Rae Oum, a former assistant professor at Michigan State University who teaches at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
“Many Korean people do not believe that there is a possibility for imminent war,” she said in an email to The Detroit News. “Most Korean people believe that both Trump and Kim are ‘bluffing’ because if either was really going to attack the other, it would be ridiculous to release in advance such detailed ‘attack plans.’ North Korea is not even a topic of discussion on most Korean and Korean-American online communities.”
She said that the current South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, has advocated gradual reconciliation with North Korea and readdressed his position with Trump during a phone conversation this month.
Meanwhile, the North Korean leader is young and worried about losing power, said Park of Rochester.
“If Trump wanted to send in troops ... Kim Jong Un knows he would be in big trouble,” Parks said.
The Associated Press contributed