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View more articles by Rose Kwak
Rose Kwak is an NK News contributor based in Seoul. She previously worked at the Korea Economist Institute (KEI).
U.S. President Donald Trump addressed the United Nations on Tuesday, in a typically bombastic speech in which he said North Korea, if it continued to threaten his country and its allies, would face “total destruction”.
The rhetoric was remarkable: Presidents have threatened North Korea in this way before, but coming from the unpredictable Donald Trump, in front of dozens of global leaders, it suggests the U.S. may increasingly be looking seriously towards military action.
So what was the reaction South of the DMZ, which stands to lose the most from a North Korean military response to a U.S. intervention?
While it’s often said that South Koreans tend not to worry about the North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests, a glance over the country’s digital media on Wednesday suggested a remarkably sanguine response.
Of the 12 major newspaper in South Korea, only four made the Trump’s UN speech a top priority: the Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo, Segye Ilbo and Maeil Business Daily.
Conservative or fairly conservative newspapers like Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo, and the Donga Ilbo prioritized their news on Trump’s UN speech. All three focused on President Trump’s tough new stance in dealing with North Korea and went into great details on his speech, comparing his threat to “destroy North Korea” with his previous statement about “fire and fury.”
But business newspapers, like the Maeil Business Daily and E-Today, instead mostly focused on domestic news, such as President Moon winning an award and on issues of THAAD.
E-Today notably did not even cover Trump’s speech. The Maeil Business Daily, moreover, did not go into detail about the speech, but chose to focus on criticisms that it received.
Other newspapers such as Seoul Shinmun, Kookmin Ilbo, Korea Times, Hankyoreh, Kyunghyang Shinmun and Munhwa Ilbo all focused on domestic news. News on Trump’s UN speech was buried deep on the various homepages.
Korea Times, exceptionally, placed a story about Mars as its top news, with coverage of Trump’s UN speech not even featured in the top 10.
Left wing media such as the Hankyoreh led with domestic news: a story about a 6-year old child living in a basement as a top story, and placed news on Trump’s speech low on the page beneath a piece on a residential area.
Kookmin Ilbo likewise made a news story about Korean Americans waiting for President Moon and how much he is loved.
While just a snapshot of one day’s news in South Korea, the low priority accorded to Trump’s rhetoric is notable, but perhaps not surprising: after North Korea’s September 9, 2016 nuclear test, the Korea Times reported that South Korean citizens’ number one most-read news story that day was about female plastic surgery.