At 7:30am Korean time North Korea finally launched the rocket that has been the subject of much discussion amongst the press here, and across the globe, all month. The reaction on the ground was predictably apathetic, it seems that whenever something of significance happens in the North the general public in the South are largely unaffected by it. They must be so used to empty threats and pathetic provocations from the North that the idea that there might actually be a threat is not taken seriously.
What was surprising in the case of the rocket launch earlier today was that the North admitted its failure. At noon today state TV in the North announced that the controversial launch had failed to enter orbit. Whether this was actually a missile test or whether it was as the North had declared, a peaceful launch to put a satellite into orbit is yet to be revealed. What is clear to me, from behind my desk twelve miles from the border is that nobody here really cares. At least, that’s the way it seems.
So, the North Korean rocket failed and what a surprise. I guess you really do get used to this kind of thing when you live in such close proximity to one of the most secretive communist dictatorships in the world. So, what happens next? Talk of supposed nuclear tests have been thrown around for about a week now, but, let’s be honest, aren’t they always? Victor Cha, former director for Asia policy in the US National Security Council said that it’s important to watch very carefully what the North are doing now at the nuclear test site and how they explain this with all those foreign journalists in the country, and he has a point, of course it’s important to keep an eye on things, but on the ground at least, the South Koreans will continue to keep their distance from the news. They will continue to read about their crazy Northern neighbours in newspapers, continue to have the news broadcast on their television sets and over the radio, but it’s all just background noise.
I didn’t expect it to be this way when I moved here; I expected the threat of the North to be a shadow that loomed over the country but it turns out that’s not the case at all, the North is just something Koreans have to put up with. One day it’s a rocket launch, the next day it’s a nuclear test, the day after that it’s about transition of power, or provocation and idle threats, its everyday, it’s a part of life here and suffice to say the launch of the North Korean rocket hasn’t affected my life here in South Korea at all. The only thing that’s changed is that by this time next week I won’t have to keep reading about it anymore, it’ll be something else instead.
I don’t want it to sound like I think that South Korea as a nation doesn’t care about what’s going on upstairs. I just want to make it clear that people don’t make a big deal out of it here. Of course Koreans care about what is happening to their country and their nation. A hugely patriotic camaraderie the likes of which I’ve never experienced before makes sure of that. Yet, people will be out drinking tonight, people will be cooking dinner and talking about trivialities largely unrelated to North Korean space rockets. Teenagers will be listening to K-Pop on their Samsung mp3 players or playing Starcraft in PC Bangs nestled on top of convenience stores and discussion of the failed rocket launch will be fleeting.
A lot of folk on twitter have been tweeting the most naive and uninformed opinions and comments on the subject of this rocket launch, I just wanted it made clear that I won’t be losing any sleep over it, and nor will anyone else.