North Korea amped up its confrontation with the U.S. and South Korea to a new level Wednesday, closing access to a unique North-South Korean industrial zone that employs tens of thousands of North Koreans and worrying Koreans living in Iowa.
Because North Korea's government has never done that before, it is escalating tensions and lending credibility to their threats to go to war with South Korea and the United States.
This is the latest in a series of threatening moves by North Korea. In the past couple of weeks, North Korea has also lifted a 60-year old agreement that ended the Korean War while also promising to reopen a nuclear reactor.
There are about 5,500 Koreans living in Iowa, with dozens more at Iowa's state colleges. The developments back home are unsettling for many, leaving only hope that North Korean threats are not carried out.
Sujeong "S.J." Seo is a third year technology major at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. In between studying, she often browses newspapers from her home country of South Korea, reading up on what's happening with her family's North Korean neighbors.
"We've had the bad relationship the past five years between North Korea and South Korea, and we're just worried about it," Seo said.
She said she's most concerned about her brother, who's enrolled in a South Korean military academy but isn't allowed to talk about what's happening.
"He said he should be quiet," said Seo. "He cannot say anything about something in particular or some military secret."
Still, Seo says it's hard to take North Korean threats too seriously.
"I don't think it will happen because I can just see they live normally. We saw similar threats from North Korea after the Korean War," Seo said.
She thinks the threats now are much more about North Korea's power-hungry dictator, Kim Jung Un, trying to show his leadership abilities.
"He has no idea what to do. So maybe they think it's a chance to communicate with the world and reduce regulation from the UN," said Seo.
Seo does sympathize with the North Korean people since the country has suffered from severe famine and drought for years.
"They just spend all their money for the military -- the army, navy, air force -- or just making nuclear bombs," Seo said. "Not to feed the people."
Now, she's just hoping North Korea and South Korea, as well as the U.S., can all come to the table and talk to protect the business, trade, and peace interests of everyone.
Seo also thinks North Korea is relying on its Chinese allies too much, when its neighbors in South Korea want to keep communication open, to prevent any kind of military action.
The U.S. has promised to defend its South Korean allies, but to what extent isn't known. When the U.S. intervened in Korea the last time, during the 1950s Korean War, 36,000 Americans were killed.
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