|N. Korea Warns Foreigners to Get Out|
|By JOOHEE CHO (@jooheecho)||Apr 9, 2013, 6:34 AM|
South Koreans and others living there played down North Korea's warning today that foreigners protect themselves or even think about evacuating because nuclear war is imminent.
"Business continues as usual for AMCHAM and its member companies," said Amy Jackson, president of the American Chamber of Commerce, an association of U.S. companies doing business in South Korea. "We are confident that the U.S. and Korean governments, in close cooperation with other allies, are fully prepared to deal with any situation."
The British Embassy in Seoul offered a similar appraisal. "We assess that there is currently no immediate risk," spokesman Colin Gray said.
But officials in Seoul still believe Pyongyang could test a mid-range missile on the east coast as early as Wednesday, so "preparations are complete," according to Kim Min-Seok, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense.
South Korean officials also pointed out that the North has simultaneously test-launched a long-range missile and several short-range scuds in the past.
Meanwhile, the Japanese Defense Ministry deployed Patriot antimissile batteries, or PAC-3s, to its headquarters in central Tokyo overnight.
The move came one day after Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera ordered his Self-Defense Forces to intercept any North Korean missile, if it threatened the country. Tokyo has taken similar steps before previous Pyongyang missile tests, but antimissile batteries have never been activated.
"As the Japanese government, we will take all possible measures to protect the lives and safety of our people," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, vowing to "calmly" cooperate with allies.
Japan has deployed additional PAC-3s to military bases in Saitama and Chiba, near Tokyo, while Aegis destroyers have been moved to the Sea of Japan.
With a range of 1,800 miles, Pyongyang's medium-range missiles are capable of reaching mainland Japan and the southern island of Okinawa, home to more than half the 47,000 U.S. troops based in the country. Kim has specifically threatened to attack U.S. bases in Okinawa, and Guam.
Experts in Seoul, who view today's threat from North Korea as more rhetoric, anticipate no direct attack, despite the statement by the North's Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee: "In case a war breaks out, we do not want foreigners in South Korea to get hurt."
North Korea has issued a slew of threats on a daily basis in the past few weeks that has alarmed the international community. But analysts say the bluster is primarily directed at the domestic audience to round up support for its new 30 year-old leader Kim Jong Un.
"If you look at the actual messages, they are being rolled out by different institutions, different actors so we see different spokesmen," Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group said.
As the core of North Korea's central powers intentionally feed a crisis situation, Pinkston detects a round of "demonstrating loyalty" going on within the regime by various organizations.
"That's the way to survive when you have a new leader in the scene," he said.
Another reason for ratcheting up tensions is the ultimate use of brinksmanship to achieve its goal of dealing directly with the United States, experts say.
"It's personal. North Korean people call him a 'kid' and he doesn't carry the status as a true leader," said Yoon Sang-Hyun, a South Korean ruling party lawmaker. "This 'kid' is in charge of 24 million North Koreans, so from his point of view, he needs to create an image of himself going head on with a superpower like the United States."
ABC News' Akiko Fujita, Joanne Kim and Hunny Jeong contributed to this report.