For over a month, Pyongyang has issued almost daily threats to the U.S. and South Korea.
South Korea and the U.S. were on high alert for a North Korean missile test-launch on Thursday, as the isolated state celebrated the rule of the Kim dynasty and appeared to tone down rhetoric of impending war.
North Korea has stationed as many as five medium-range missiles on its east coast, according to defence assessments by Washington and Seoul, possibly in readiness for a test-launch that would demonstrate its ability to hit U.S. bases on Guam.
“There are signs the North could fire off Musudan missiles any time soon,” an unnamed intelligence source in Seoul said.
Most observers say Pyongyang has no intention of starting a war that would be likely to bring its own destruction but warn of the risks of miscalculation on the highly-militarised Korean peninsula. There were few signs of alarm in Seoul, the South Korean capital, and financial markets shrugged off the risk of conflict with stocks posting a third day of gains.
New South Korean President, Park Geun-hye met foreign businessmen on Thursday and reassured them the country was safe and was working closely with the U.S. and China, the North’s only major diplomatic ally. Taiwan became the first country to warn its citizens against travelling to South Korea after Pyongyang said foreigners should leave but Seoul hotels reported brisk business.
Kim Il-sung died in 1994 and his son Kim Jong-il ruled North Korea until his death in December 2011. He was succeeded by Kim Jong-un, the third of his line to preside over one of the world’s poorest and most heavily militarised countries.
Since taking office, the 30-year-old has staged two long- range rocket launches and a nuclear weapons test. The nuclear test in February triggered UN sanctions that Pyongyang has termed a hostile act and a precursor to invasion. For over a month, Pyongyang has issued almost daily threats to the U.S. and South Korea, recently warning foreigners to leave the South to escape “thermonuclear war.”
But such rhetoric appeared on Thursday to abate as KCNA listed arrivals for the birthday celebrations, ranging from Chinese businessmen to Cold War-era enthusiasts of its socialist monarchy and ideology of ‘juche,’ or self-reliance.
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