For all the talk about North Korea’s possible ability to deliver a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, there appears to be only a slight fear of war breaking out in the region — at least among members of the Korean community in Queens.
And for all his bluster, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who took over that country’s reins upon the death of his father late in 2011, doesn’t even seem to be rattling many nerves. In fact, the extent of his power is being questioned by many.
“He’s mugging the international community like a street gang,” observed John Park, president of the Korean American Community Empowerment Council. “They enjoy threatening. Their main goal is to take over South Korea, to make it a communist country, but because the American Army is there, they can’t do anything.”
Slightly more concerned is J.D. Kim, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for state senator in northern Queens’ District 16 last year, though he, too, is largely taking the threats in stride. “There is a certain amount of numbness,” J.D. Kim said. “Koreans have lived with the threat of being attacked from the North over 50 years. North Korea uses this as a tactic. Under Kim Jong-Il, everyone knew this was his international strategy to get money and resources for his country.”
Of Kim Jong-Il’s now 30-year-old son, J.D. Kim wonders, “Is he in charge or is he being controlled? If he is in charge, what are his motives?”
Park, who also operates a store called Four Seasons Uniform in Jackson Heights, also questions Kim Jong-Un’s position. “He tries to prove himself,” he said. “He just took power last year. I think he doesn’t still fully control North Korea.”
He likened Kim Jong-Un to the boy who cried wolf.
J.D. Kim admitted, however, that “the behavior has gone beyond the typical posturing.” While he believes most South Koreans are not in a state of panic, he said, “They are more alarmed than before and condemning his belligerent stance. The escalation of his behavior suggests more than posturing.”
Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), in a telephone interview, said he believes the situation in Korea has led to “a mixture of different emotions.”
People’s reactions have been “going in phases,” he said. “At first, they were nervous. Then they became upset. But overall, they’re not worried. They have seen irrational behavior from the North before.
“They still have strong emotions against North Korea, having grandparents and other family members victimized in World War II and the Korean War. They want everything to be resolved.”
More than anything, he said, people seem to be “more upset at the irrational behavior.”
Ron Kim indicated that community rallies are being planned here, in part to “galvanize older Korean Americans to show their support for American troops and to express to the American public that they stand by them.”
As for Kim Jong-Un’s threats, Ron Kim suggests they are “a reflection of desperation. They stem from the millions of people who are starving and disconnected from the rest of the world. It is a cry for help. At the end of the day, you don’t want to go to war. Sooner or later, North Korea has to be more globalized.”
Woodside resident Sung Soo Park, a native of Seoul who has lived in New York for 27 years, has three sisters and a brother living in Korea. He spoke with one of his sisters last week and “they said it’s okay,” he explained. “Mr. Kim is a liar. They don’t care.”
Sung Soo Park admitted he’s “a little worried” about the situation back home. “We see the news,” he said. “I think North Korea doesn’t have money. The economy is very bad. Maybe they’re just talking. A lot of people think the same.”
He believes Kim Jong-Un’s posturing stems, at least in part, from his age.
“He is very young,” Sung Soo Park said. “He doesn’t have power. The army has the power.”
Sekwon Ko, a Bayside resident who came to the United States from Inchon 30 years ago, still has family there.
“South Korea is a very big country and strong. And the United States Army is in South Korea,” Ko said. So, he does not foresee war breaking out any time soon.
“Not at this time,” he said. “Kim Jong-Un is very smart. He knows if there is fighting between North and South Korea, he will die. He needs money from America or South Korea or China. The people are hungry.”
Ko agreed with Sung Soo Park’s explanation that age is a factor in Kim Jong-Un’s rhetoric. “He’s young. He’s not respected. He wants respect. The South Korean people want peace 100 percent.”
John Park, who has siblings living in Seoul, said, “I don’t worry about them. They don’t call. I don’t call. We only watch now, not worry.”
To emphasize his point, he noted that Korean newspapers here aren’t giving the situation on the Korean Peninsula major coverage. “Maybe on the third or fourth page,” he said.
He is hopeful that the Chinese government will have a positive influence on North Korea’s stance. While “not expecting full” Chinese cooperation, he believes that “the Chinese government will cooperate with the United States government this time. China is North Korea’s pipeline. If they stop, North Korea will dry out.”
Of Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to Asia, including South Korea, J.D. Kim said, “South Korea has always relied heavily on its friendship with the United States and welcomes the effort.”
Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, responded to questions about the situtation with a prepared statement in which she said, “I agree with Secretary Kerry about China joining the U.S. and other nations in finding a peaceful way to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Meng, whose family is of Chinese descent, believes “we must continue to not tolerate the outrageous behavior of North Korea and stand ready to defend our country and our ally and friend South Korea should North Korea make good on its threats. We’ll soon be introducing a resolution about our commitment to South Korea.”