LA's Korean community warily watches North Korean threats

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The escalating rhetoric coming out of North Korea these days has some Korean-Americans in Los Angeles on edge; others see it as Pyongyang's typical bluster. 

Michael Won is a staff writer for the Korea Daily, a Korean language newspaper that circulates  L.A. and nine other American cities.  His mother lives just south of the North Korean border. He’s been calling her more often lately. He says his friends are too: “They are calling their parents more often, just to check out whether they’re emotionally stable and whether they’re not affected."

 Won says he’s never heard a North Korean leader threaten to attack the U.S. so overtly.  Won adds that Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un’s age — he’s believed to be around 30 years old — makes him nervous. “I think were all worried because he’s so young,” Won says. “It makes it very hard to predict what he’s going to do next.”

Kim Jong Un  took over when his father, Kim Jong-il, died in 2011. He is the third in a dynasty of leaders who have made Korea one of the most closed societies in the world.

Grace Yoo is the executive director the the Korean American Coalition, which is located just a few blocks from Won’s office in the heart of Koreatown. She, too, has family in South Korea, but she says she’s not overly concerned for the moment, “because this happens so frequently.”

Yoo believes the aggressive rhetoric coming out of the North is just part of a cycle — the North’s way of negotiating. She says the North Koreans seem to follow the same playbook when they want something. 

“So the question is, what are they hoping to gain?” Yoo says. “Is it just food? Is it a release of the sanctions on banks? What is it that they desire? I don’t know, but usually their motivation is to get something.”

Whatever its motivation, North Korea’s threats are making headlines and rattling some Korean Americans.

“The community here is actually more worried than the people who live on the southern part of the peninsula,” Yoo says. “But even the community here is not at this point concerned about a true war. We know it’s a part of rhetoric and saber-rattling, but its not actual war.”

And that seems to be many people’s hope in Koreatown, that this yet untested North Korean leader doesn’t take this familiar cycle into uncharted, and possibly catastrophic territory.

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