SEOUL, South Korea — People munched on sandwiches under the sun and enjoyed the cherry blossoms as they strolled around the streets of this capital on Sunday, barely disturbed by the fact that North Korea fired a long-range missile earlier in the morning.
The fine weather proved good for both South and North Koreans, as most believe Pyongyang had been deterred by strong winds the previous day from launching what it calls a communications satellite.
Most South Koreans were aware of the news coming from its neighboring enemy. They are not quite indifferent to the news of what happens in the secretive state, but people have learned to live with the nature of North Korea, having experienced several missile tests already and even a nuclear test conducted in the North a few years ago. The streets of Seoul remained calm.
But not all can take a step back and calmly watch Pyongyang going about its ways.
The South Korean government and media were on their toes as the minutes inched towards the opening of the window North Korea had given to the rest of the world for its launch, 11 a.m. local time.
Red flags were raised 30 minutes after the opening with first reports of the launch coming from Japan that was mostly concerned debris from the rocket might fall on its territory. The first-stage of the rocket fell into the sea east of the Korean Peninsula before the second-stage booster dropped into the Pacific Ocean 13 minutes after the launch.
North Korean state-media announced that its satellite successfully entered into orbit. Adding that the launch is “a fruit born from the battle to take the nation’s space science technology to the next level.”
However U.S. and South Korean military confirmed that no such device ever made it into orbit.
The U.S., South Korea and Tokyo condemned the act calling it “provocative” and “reckless.” All three countries had warned against the launch, saying they would take the issue before the U.N. Security Council.
Analysts say it is unlikely that North Korea will face sanctions from the international body as Russia and China are not expected to support such action. Pyongyang had earlier warned it would pull out of the six-party talks, aiming to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, if the U.N. took such actions against it.
Despite confirmations from the U.S. and South Korea saying the satellite did not make it into orbit, the launching of the missile is still likely to boost North Korea’s efforts to export rockets to other countries, one of the many reasons Pyongyang conducted such an act.
The launch also comes as North Korea tries to win attention of the new Obama administration.
“Usually to launch a communications satellite, all you need is a rocket with a 1,000 to 2,000 kilometer range. Why would they deliberately launch one that can reach 7,000 to 8,000 kilometers? It’s targeting the U.S.” said Yang Moo-jin, a North Korea expert at The Institute for Far Eastern Studies. “It’s creating this show, trying to draw the attention of the U.S., so that it can negotiate with it.”
But the rocket launch was not all for external reasons. April 9 is when the newly-elected Supreme People’s Assembly, the North Korean rubber-stamp parliament, convenes, and Kim Jong-il displays to his people that he is firmly in power.
Outside watchers say the rocket launch will give the North an opportunity to kick up its propaganda and boast to its people the wonders of their "Dear Leader". The North is said to have been broadcasting a celebratory music video of the rocket launch.
While North Korea was enjoying its festivities, most people in the South went on with their daily lives. When asked about the rocket launch, most admitted the news did not alarm them.
“I think the North is just trying to gain itself another card at the negotiating table, not really trying to make war or anything. I mean it’s not going to try to aim it at South Korea or Japan, and I don’t think it even believes that’s a good idea,” said 31-year-old student Im Jae-Hyoun.
Im feels that South Korea and the rest of the world are over-reacting and that the North, like other countries, should have the right to develop legitimate technology, a sentiment that people who have experienced the Korean War do not understand nor want to permit.
“Younger people, they haven’t experienced the war, and they may know in general that communism is bad, but they haven’t lived through it and understand why it’s not appropriate in the global community,” said Shin Kyu-young, 71.
Although Shin said he has extremely strong feelings against the North, news of the rocket launch did not stop him from coming out for a walk with his grandchildren along Cheonggye stream, already bustling with tourists and couples on dates.
“I came out regardless of the news," he said. "But even as I walk about the streets like this, I feel a lot of animosity towards the North for firing its missile thing. I’m hoping the North never again does such a thing.”
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