Skip to main content

South Koreans cast wary eyes to the North

By Matthew Chance, CNN
January 31, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • South Koreans are growing worried at the increasingly hostile signs from the North
  • North Korea recently threatened "physical countermeasures" against Seoul
  • Comes after fresh U.N. sanctions against the regime following its satellite launch
  • Pyongyang has promised to resume underground nuclear tests, its third since 2006

Near the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea (CNN) -- Kim Jin Young peered through powerful binoculars across the last frontier of the Cold War.

He traveled from Seoul by bus, along with dozens of other curious day-trippers, many with their young children, to visit the Odu Mountain public observatory here, which overlooks a heavily-guarded stretch of the border with North Korea.

This is the closest many South Koreans ever get to their increasingly hostile, northern neighbor.

"North Korea's military capability is pretty big, and South Korea's military is preparing for it," Kim says, counting the numerous military outposts positioned along the river banks below.

"But I am quite concerned because security awareness of the South Korean public is not great, and we need to strengthen it."

South Korea launches its own rocket
Why South Korea's rocket launch matters
North Korea threatens new nuclear test

He has good reason to worry. Just days before, the regime in Pyongyang, hit by a fresh round of U.N. sanctions over it recent satellite launch, issued a direct threat to the South.

Read more: How close is North Korea to a nuclear missile?

In an angry statement, North Korean officials pledged to conduct a third nuclear test, vowing that if South Korea supports the sanctions it would use "strong physical countermeasures" against "the group of puppet traitors" in Seoul, a phrase often used by Pyongyang when it talks about the South Korean government.

It's unclear what the isolated state may have in mind.

The South Korean president's office released a statement Thursday urging North Korea to "immediately stop with its provocative language and movement and abide by its international obligations." It warned that "if North Korea is to make misjudgments and carry out with additional provocations," that a "severe outcome" would result.

U.S.: North Korean nuclear test 'soon'

President Lee Myung-bak ordered the South Korean defense minister to prepare a strong response if North Korea follows through with a nuclear test.

In the past, the North has shelled territory in the south. It's also accused of sinking a South Korean warship in 2010, killing more than 40 sailors.

"Whenever North Korea makes such comments, we need to be very concerned," said Kim Jong Soon, another visitor to the Odusan Unification Observatory.

Read more: North Korea on Google Maps: Monuments, nuclear complex, gulags

"After the recent shelling of our island by the North in 2010, there was a lot of damage. That's why South Koreans should be very concerned now," he added.

South Korean Launch

After North Korea's successful December satellite launch, Pyongyang's state television broadcast continuous scenes of orchestrated jubilation.

Thousand of North Koreans were shown thronging the streets in celebration, as their rivals in the South smarted at being beaten in the race to launch a satellite. How could a regime as impoverished as that in Pyongyang better the high-tech South, many South Koreans asked.

Op-ed: Rescind North Korea's license to provoke

But the technological coup was quickly answered in Seoul.

South Korea finally lifted its own satellite into orbit Wednesday, after two previous failed attempts.

Spectators watched, nervously, as the Naro rocket, built with Russian help, blasted into orbit. Officials confirmed its small satellite was successfully deployed in space.

South Korea's past experience with rockets has been patchy. Its first launch in 2009 reached orbit, then failed to detach. The second, a year later, exploded just two minutes into its flight.

North Korea has not reacted to South Korea's success.

But this region appears to be amid a tense and accelerating space race. In recent days, Japan has launched spy satellites to monitor the region. China and the U.S. say they've tested missile interceptors.

And now South Korea has joined Pyongyang in that elite space club.

Read more: Is Asia on cusp of space race?

CNN's KJ Kwon contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Experts warn that under Kim Jong Un's rule, Pyongyang has shown an even greater willingness to raise the stakes than before.
March 18, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
China and North Korea criticize a U.N. report that found crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
March 17, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
Megumi Yokota was only 13 when she was abducted by a North Korean agent in the 1970s. What happened after that?
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 0430 GMT (1230 HKT)
Report: North Korea uses multiple techniques to defy sanctions, and shows no signs of abandoning its nuclear missile programs.
February 21, 2014 -- Updated 0817 GMT (1617 HKT)
Families torn apart for more than 60 years -- separated by the Korean War -- began to reunite at a mountain resort in North Korea Thursday.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1150 GMT (1950 HKT)
A stunning catalog of torture and the widespread abuse of even the weakest of North Koreans reveal a portrait of a brutal state, the UN reported.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 0431 GMT (1231 HKT)
Former prisoners in North Korea describe horrific stories of being tortured by authorities.
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 1527 GMT (2327 HKT)
Skiing is not the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the isolated nation, but North Korea's ski resort is world class.
February 8, 2014 -- Updated 0315 GMT (1115 HKT)
American Kenneth Bae, who is being held in North Korea, has been moved from a hospital to a labor camp.
January 8, 2014 -- Updated 0213 GMT (1013 HKT)
Why is he being held by North Korea in a prison camp? These are the questions for many since his arrest in the isolated country in 2012.
January 27, 2014 -- Updated 0818 GMT (1618 HKT)
The first time the South Korean factory owner watched his North Korean employees nibble on a Choco Pie, they appeared shocked.
January 8, 2014 -- Updated 0126 GMT (0926 HKT)
Dennis Rodman's "Big Bang in Pyongyang" may be in a league of its own, but other stars too have mixed with repressive regimes before.
December 19, 2013 -- Updated 1800 GMT (0200 HKT)
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrives in North Korea to train basketball players, state-run media reports.
December 18, 2013 -- Updated 0250 GMT (1050 HKT)
The nation held a memorial in the honor of former North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il on the second anniversary of his death.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
Days after he was removed from his powerful military post, Jang Song Thaek was called a traitor and executed.
ADVERTISEMENT