In lieu of a normal Daily Update yesterday, I wanted to focus on two major developing stories occurring in Korea over the weekend. I apologize for posting this update being posted a day late, but I wanted to ensure the research was thorough. The typical format will resume with the next daily update.
Earthquake Rocks South Korea
Yet another earthquake occurred on the Korean peninsula, but this one was not of artificial origin or tied to a nuclear weapons test. On Monday, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook through Gyeongju, South Korea and was felt throughout the entire nation. This was the second strong earthquake, as minutes before a 5.1 magnitude earthquake rocked the city. Each quake was felt nationwide and as far away as Japan (Korea Times).
Korea has a very interesting history with earthquakes, spanning its entire history. Gyeongju has a colorful history with these earth-shaking events. In fact, about 5% of recorded earthquakes since the Three Kingdoms era – 120 out of 2600 – occurred in the city (Yonhap). In 779, a strong earthquake destroyed several homes and killed around 100 people. In the 11th century, Gyeongju was rocked by a variety of earthquakes. Many equate the high amount of seismic activity in the city to its placement along the Ulsan fault (Yonhap), a fault which may be returning to seismic activity. (For a more thorough, scientific study of the faults in southern South Korea, see this article published in Quaternary International on 5 July 2014.)
The major quakes did not cause too much damage to the city. On Monday at 1am, reports indicated only 6 injuries and minor cosmetic damage, such as cracks, in buildings. The quake also had little effect on the industry in the city; the article stated that factories in and surrounding the Ulsan and Pohang areas were not affected by the quakes and that the nuclear power plants in Gyeongju were still operating (Korea Times). However, reports surfaced on Tuesday saying the four nuclear reactors were shut down as a precaution late Monday evening (Reuters). Authorities then inspected the reactors on Tuesday (Yonhap). The Cultural Heritage Administration also went to inspect cultural heritage sites, such as the Sekoram Grotto, Bluguksa Temple, and the Cheomseongdae Observatory, throughout Gyeongju (Korea Times). Reports have yet to be made public, through the extent of the damage appears to be minimal at the time of this post; a Reuters article released Tuesday reports 14 injuries and no major damage, citing a Ministry of Public Health and Safety Official. The Korea Times reported 8 injured and 253 reports of property damage from the quake.
Though the aftershocks of these two quakes seem to be over, the Korea Meteorological Administration is wary that quakes registering between 5.8 and 6 could shake the nation (Korea Times). It is clear the city escaped major damage, but Korea may be in for more major earthquakes in the future.
Nuclear Test Response
The first few days following a North Korean nuclear test are always interesting, as everyone works to show strength and resilience while working to ensure the brittle veil of deterrence does not shatter on the peninsula, and this test was no different.
South Korean president Park Geun-hae has been sticking to a script of verbal of the Kim regime following the nuclear test. She has called Kim Jung-un uncontrollable and reckless following the test (Yonhap). Park is also expecting to reach out to leaders in opposition to THAAD deployment and make the case for them to shift their stance on the issue (The Guardian). On Wednesday, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense and the United States Department of Defense called for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program in a “complete, verifiable and irreversible manner” (Yonhap), reviving the old adage President George Bush pushed during the Six Party Talks. (For a good study of Bush policy toward North Korea see Chinoy, Meltdown: The Inside Story of How North Korea Got the Bomb.) The tables now rest in the hands of the international community – in particular the United Nations – as every nation works to ensure tough repercussions are enacted following this test.
The United States took it a step further. Rather than just playing the diplomacy game, American B-1B bombers flew over Korea in a show of strength (NBC News). The B-1B is a nuclear capable supersonic bomber. This is not the first time the United States has flown bombers over Korea in a show of strength. “Such flyovers are common when high animosity rises on the Korean peninsula” (NBC News).
On Monday, an unnamed South Korean official said North Korea had finished preparations for another nuclear test (BBC News). A more ominous article run on the Yonhap website cities 38North chief editor Joel Wit saying Punggye-ri, North Korea’s nuclear test site, is ready for three more explosions at any time (Yonhap). Many other news agencies have ran articles about North Korea’s readiness for another test as well. A CNBC article argued that North Korea is currently taking advantage of an international situation in which major powers are distracted with internal political shifts, with a current presidential election cycle in the United States and another gearing up in South Korea. Rapid progress and distracted powers could lead North Korea to conduct its sixth nuclear test on short notice.