South Koreans shrug off nuclear neighbor, check out cosmetics sale

Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:57am EST
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By David Chance and Narae Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - When South Korean soldier Kim Kyung-rae heard of North Korea's nuclear test on Tuesday, his first thought was not that war was imminent or that the enemy was closer to a deadly new weapon, but whether the event would interfere with a planned holiday.

Decades of hostile rhetoric and only occasional bellicose action since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War has inured many in the prosperous South to North Korea's growing nuclear threat under its new 30-year old leader Kim Jong-un.

"The first thing that occurred to me when I saw the news was ‘What if I cannot get out the base tomorrow?'" said Kim Kyung-rae, a 24-year old conscript, speaking to Reuters on Wednesday.

"Today is the first day of my holidays," he added. "The atmosphere in the base was just as usual. Nothing unusual. I do not think the North will wage a war against us because to me, they are just like a beggar with a knife threatening us for more food."

Kim's nonchalance appears to be shared by many in South Korea. While world leaders reacted with shock and anger to Tuesday's nuclear test, Pyongyang's third and most powerful to date, the top item searched on South Korean Internet portals was a monthly cosmetics sale by local brand Innisfree.

But even outside South Korea, there appears to be a sense that North Korea is inevitably on its way to becoming a nuclear power, and that the world would have to deal with its new young leader Kim Jong-un in that context.

In Japan, often a target for North Korea's harsh rhetoric, there was concern tinged with resignation.

"Oh no, they've actually gone and done it," said Yumiko Kuriyama, a 64-year-old woman in Tokyo, after reading a special edition of a newspaper announcing the test. "They could send one over and hit Japan now. It's scary, it's just so scary."   Continued...

A South Korean soldier patrols near the demilitarized zone separating South Korea from North Korea, in Paju, north of Seoul February 13, 2013. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won