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North Korea threatens; neighbors remain calm

A South Korean soldier stands at a military check point connecting South and North Korea at the Unification Bridge on April 9, 2013 in Paju, South Korea.

North Korea's recent threats to test launch medium-range missiles and pursue its nuclear ambitions is alarming the U.S. and many other countries. Marketplace’s partner organization, the BBC, has reporters in a number of countries surrounding North Korea. We have their reports on the mood in three economically significant nearby locations: Beijing, China; Tokyo, Japan; and Seoul, South Korea.

Celia Hatton in Beijing
Chinese diplomats have their hands full dealing with rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula but so far, business people in China are carrying on as normal. The customs office in Dandong, the Chinese city that lies on the North Korean border, confirms trade is unaffected, except for the suspension of Chinese tourist visits to North Korea. Chinese businessmen were even invited to Pyongyang this week to celebrate the birthday of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

Some believe Chinese leaders have already decided North Korea is becoming a strategic liability and they’re predicting a change to China’s North Korea policy but others are pressuring Beijing to maintain the status quo with Pyongyang.

North Korea accounts for just 1 percent of Chinese trade -- a drop in the bucket for China but a lifeline for people living in China’s poor Northeastern provinces along the North Korean border. They are hoping China’s leaders will continue to support the regime of Kim Jong Un.

Martin Patience in Tokyo
Japan is taking no chances. The government has placed Patriot missiles at three locations in the capital with orders to shoot down any North Korean missiles heading towards the country. Out at sea, Japanese warships have been rigged out with missile defense equipment.

Despite this, the mood in Tokyo is relaxed. There’s certainly no sense of panic. Japan has been in this situation before. Most believe that Japan and U.S. bases in the country will not be targeted but North Korea is an unpredictable regime and nobody is sure what it will do next.

As for Japan’s economy, there have been no jitters so far but that could well change if tensions escalate further. Most Japanese believe that this crisis will blow over, just as past crises have. Even so, the batteries of Patriot missiles stationed around Tokyo stand as a stark reminder of North Korea’s threats.

John Sudworth in Seoul, South Korea
So far, as with previous crises, there is no sign of panic in South Korea. Seoul is as busy and bustling as ever. People are going to work. Cafes, bars and restaurants are full. The stock exchange is also largely unaffected. It priced in the threat from North Korea long ago.

That threat is seen as minimal. North Korea, most believe, has no interest in starting a war it knows it would lose and lose and lose quickly.

There is a sense of watchfulness from the South Korean government and perhaps, an added frisson of uncertainty given that North Korea now has a young, inexperienced leader at the helm, who is an unknown quantity.

One commentator pondering the recent international news coverage of the situation observed: “the level of alarm grows greater the further from Korea you get.”

About the author

Celia Hatton is a BBC reporter.

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