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Page last updated at 01:41 GMT, Saturday, 30 May 2009 02:41 UK

Are British expats in Korea anxious?

By Andrew McFarlane
BBC News

N Korean military officers celebrate the nuclear test at Pyongyang Indoor Stadium on 26 May (KCNA)
North Korea's military celebrated the controversial nuclear and missile tests

North Korea's decision to stage a nuclear test in direct contravention of an international ban has been widely condemned and led to fears of conflict in south-east Asia. But are Britons living in the region fearful?

If the Scottish government was to begin assembling a nuclear arsenal and make threatening noises towards its neighbours, you might expect mass panic across the rest of the UK.

But Mike Walker, who has spent the last seven years teaching English in South Korea, suggested that concern among people he knew there has been minimal.

He said: "The really big news here was that (the country's football captain) Park Ji-Sung became the first Asian to play in a Champions' League final.

'Quite bizarre'

"No-one is worried in the slightest about North Korea. It's really quite bizarre.

"There are headlines across the world saying 'North Korea declares war' but you wouldn't guess it here. No-one is stockpiling provisions, they are just carrying on as usual."

Five decades of uneasy truce since the end of the Korean War, punctuated by periodic diplomatic crises, may well have contributed to this relaxed attitude to the latest threats.

John Adams
There are no daily troubles, nothing tangible - life goes on regardless
John Adams

But while the Foreign Office says there is "no evidence of any increased risk or danger" to those in South Korea, do the Britons living and working there feel the same?

Mr Walker, who hails from Southport on Merseyside, says: "If I'd just come here then I'd be panicky but I've been here seven years now and I don't think the North will ever set bombs off.

"It's just posturing for [US President Barack] Obama's benefit. The only expats who seem a bit worried are the Americans."

The 32-year-old has set up a school in the central city of Daejeon, a little over 200 miles south-east of North Korea's capital Pyongyang. He says the situation provides a good study topic for his older pupils.

'Sunshine policy'

While the western press focuses on the unpredictable nature of Kim Jong-il and his communist regime, Mr Walker said many blame their own leader for souring relations.

After taking power last year, President Lee Myung-bak - nicknamed The Bulldozer - eschewed his predecessors' "sunshine" policy of engagement with the north.

"He abandoned the softly, softly approach that the previous regimes took and many people are angry with him. They think it was asking for trouble."

John Adams, who teaches at a private school in the industrial city of Pohang on South Korea's east coast, says most people he knows view the situation with "a mixture of embarrassment and despair".

A South Korean marine soldier watches North Korean territory (8 May)
A South Korean soldier keeps a watchful eye on the North

"People have a 'here we go again' outlook," said the 30-year-old who has been in the country since 2003.

Mr Adams, from Liverpool, said the fact North Korea was testing nuclear weapons would not put him off living in the region.

He said: "It's just typical bluff and bluster.

"We've heard similar threats emanating from Pyongyang on many occasions and I see no reason to take this current wave of bravado any more seriously than any other time."

He said he did not believe there was any real desire to create conflict but that the North was merely using its nuclear programme as a bargaining tool.

"We're all used to the rhetoric coming from the powers that be on both sides. But there are no daily troubles, nothing tangible - life goes on regardless," he said.

The overriding desire among most ordinary Koreans, he said, was to see the two halves of the country reunited.

While they may not fear imminent war, they know they may face a long wait for reconciliation.



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