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North Korea's headline-making bluster

Reclusive nation has somehow managed to make each threat sound more dangerous - and newsworthy - than the last.
Last modified: 9 Apr 2013 18:40

Either North Korea has a detailed playbook of threats, the product of its version of a brainstorming management retreat, or it is improvising, trying to outdo itself each day.

Whichever, the result has been a remarkable success at staying at or near the top of the world's news agenda for weeks now, somehow managing to make each threat sound more dangerous, more newsworthy than the last.

Tuesday's move - a day after the announcement of the pullout from the Kaesong Joint Industrial Complex, another foray into uncharted territory - was to warn all foreign institutions, businesses, residents and tourists in South Korea to get ready to get out.

Similar to its warning to diplomats in Pyongyang, the capital, that their safety could not be guaranteed beyond April 10, the message was that foreigners could be harmed in the event of a war brought about by the US "imperialists" and the "puppet war-mongers" of Seoul.

If it attracted the attention of the world media once more, it didn't seem to elicit much more than a shrug from foreigners in the South Korean capital.

The British embassy, for example, said it wouldn't be responding to each new piece of rhetoric coming from the north, and that its advice to British tourists and residents remained unchanged: they were under no imminent risk.

'Empty threats'

Tourists in the arts-and-crafts zone of Insadong said it seemed like more "empty threats".

South Korea and the US maintain that they've seen no unusual troop movements in the north.

The defector-run website Daily NK has been reporting that North Korean civilians mobilised for weeks of military drills have been stood down, and are sowing their crops.

The enemy hardly appears to be at the gate.

What South Korea did confirm on Tuesday, through its defence ministry, was its assessment that a mid-range missile, positioned on North Korea's east coast, was technically ready for launch at any time, as early as Wednesday.

Wednesday was also the deadline given for the South Koreans still inside Kaesong - more than 400 after Tuesday's departures - to hand in their plans to leave. Or if you believe, as I'm inclined to, one South Korean business owner we spoke to last week - it's the deadline for them to "wrap up" their operations and get out.

If some South Koreans stay, what will Pyongyang decide to do with them?

If North Korea launches a missile, will its trajectory take it over Japan, and will it give proper warning to shipping and civil aviation bodies?

Wednesday could be a day when North Korea's words take second billing to its actions.