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Panic starts to spread

Apr 11,2017
Security concerns are rapidly deepening in South Korea after the U.S. media raised the possibility of the Donald Trump administration bombing North Korea’s nuclear facilities as Pyongyang prepares for a possible sixth nuclear test and a missile provocation ahead of Kim Il Sung’s birthday on April 15 or the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean Army on April 25. Support for the idea of such an attack comes from a U.S. aircraft carrier-led strike group being sent toward the Korean Peninsula three days after the first summit between Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping last week in Florida.

It is rare for the USS Carl Vinson, a U.S. Navy Nimitz-class supercarrier, to return to the peninsula after participating in the annual Foal Eagle-Key Resolve exercises last month. The U.S. Pacific Command plans to forward-deploy five RQ-4 Global Hawks — a high-altitude unmanned surveillance aircraft — to Yokoda Air Base, Japan, for six months from May from its Anderson Airbase in Guam.

Rumors that the U.S. may bomb North Korea have been spreading on the internet and social media since last week. NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt’s live coverage of the tense atmosphere from Osan Airbase and the demilitarized zone last week did little to lower the tension. On Monday, the Wall Street Journal leapt on the bandwagon by running the unusual movement of the USS Carl Vinson as the top story on its front page. All of these reports suggest that the international community sees the situation on the Korean Peninsula more seriously than Koreans themselves.

A hard-line posture by the U.S. is becoming more transparent after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s remarks that the U.S. government would set up its own plans and be ready to execute them if China could not cooperate with Washington. His explanation that the U.S. airstrike in Syria during the summit was also a message to both North Korea and China fueled panic.

Our military authorities’ reaction was alarming in its own way. A spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense said Monday that the aircraft carrier’s relocation is a preparation for any provocation by the North, including another nuclear test. The Ministry of Public Safety and Security hurriedly conducted security checks on evacuation centers and passenger ships on Yeonpyeong Island, which was shelled by North Korea in 2010. Our stock market responded sensitively. The Kospi index fell 0.86 percent while the Kosdaq plunged 2.2 percent. In the meantime, shares in defense industry companies soared.

Wild rumors don’t help anyone. To ease public anxiety, the government must double-check our national security and explain what is really happening.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 11, Page 30