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Reactions Out Of China And Guam Over Exchanges Between U.S. And North Korea


Countries around the world have reacted with alarm to the mounting threats and rhetoric being exchanged between the U.S. and North Korea. Pyongyang has threatened to launch missiles at the waters near the U.S. territory of Guam in the western Pacific. And yesterday, President Trump called the governor of Guam to reassure him that U.S. forces stand ready to protect the island. NPR's Elise Hu is in Guam. She joins us now.


SMITH: And we've also got NPR's Anthony Kuhn on the line in Beijing. Hi, Anthony.


SMITH: So Elise, let's start with you. What are things like in Guam right now. Are people worried?

HU: There's a mix of reactions here in Guam. But we should say that the governor here insists the public threat level has not gone up as a result of Wednesday's announcement from North Korea that it was planning or considering a plan to test missiles to land in the waters near Guam. So it never did threaten to attack Guam the island. But there has been escalating rhetoric about this.

Guam's Homeland Security department shared a two-page fact sheet with tips for residents on how to prepare and survive a nuclear strike. And it's a little unsettling because of the content in there. One of the warnings says that during a nuclear strike, you should, for example, not look at the flash or fireball because it can blind you.

It also includes recommendations about taking cover and that during the attack, you should take off all your clothes. And apparently, that's because that most of the residue from a nuclear attack actually lands on your clothes. And so if you get off all the clothes, you might be safer. And also, that you should use - you should shampoo your hair immediately but not use conditioner.

SMITH: Wow. I mean, has this frightened people, seeing this information being disseminated by the government?

HU: It's mixed. I mean, some folks are concerned. There's people that I talk to who, for example, survived World War II and say they don't want to see anything like that ever again. But there's also a sense of island cool here where people say, you know, they don't have a lot of control over this situation, so you know, what are they going to do?

SMITH: President Trump has been in touch with Guam. What message did he deliver to the people there?

HU: He and his national security team had actually not spoken directly to the governor of Guam as of yesterday. So it just changed earlier today when President Trump and Governor Eddie Calvo here spoke by phone. The White House says the president reassured Governor Calvo and the residents of Guam that the U.S. is standing with the people here and their security. Calvo also got a call from the former Homeland Security chief and now Trump chief of staff, General John Kelly.

SMITH: And, Elise, why would North Korea want to target Guam?

HU: There is a lot of U.S. military might here - a major naval base, a major Air Force base. And Guam isn't called the tip of the spear for a reason, as the U.S. uses it to project power across the Pacific. And so North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper today claimed that more than 3 million residents of North Korea had volunteered to actually fight the United States and that all the people in North Korea are rising up across the country to retaliate against the United States thousands of times. That phrase is something that North Korean propaganda uses a lot.

SMITH: And, Anthony, let's go to you now. President Trump has also been speaking with China. What has he been saying to China?

KUHN: The two presidents spoke overnight by phone. And the readouts said that, basically, President Xi stuck to China's line, which is to say, North Korea, the United States, just cool it. And China has really not budged an inch from that position throughout all this heated rhetoric. And I think it's because China feels it's already done what it can. It helped to pass a tough new sanctions bill in the U.N. Security Council. And it's been doing most of the enforcing of the sanctions because it does most of the trade with North Korea. And therefore, it's been taking the biggest economic hit.

Also, they floated an idea on how both sides can walk back from the brink, de-escalate tensions and return to the negotiating table. But it's been a non-starter for Washington and Pyongyang. Neither side are interested. Also something that's interesting is that in their readout, the White House referred to a good chemistry going on between President Trump and Xi. And that suggests that, although President Trump was kind of disillusioned by the lack of results since he met with President Xi at Mar-a-Lago, he still sort of holds out hope that Xi may help him find a way to work this all out.

And if that does not work out, then we may see further sanctions on Chinese banks and companies doing business with North Korea. Another thing that may happen is that the U.S. may investigate China's trade practices. And that could scuttle cooperation on North Korea.

SMITH: Well, Anthony, from what I understand, Chinese state media said in an op-ed that if war breaks out between the U.S. and North Korea, that China should remain neutral. Is that what you would expect from the government? Is that the government's position?

KUHN: Not necessarily because the tabloid that ran that op-ed doesn't always speak for the government. But I think it certainly speaks for a certain portion of public opinion. They feel that, you know, the defense commitments between China and North Korea need to be reviewed. If the U.S. and North Korea get into a war, China may not want to come to North Korea's defense as this treaty prescribes. So it's a reminder that each time North Korea does a test, a nuclear or a missile test, public opinion in China towards North Korea sours and their patience just gets thinner and thinner.

SMITH: NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing and Elise Hu in Guam. Thank you, guys.

KUHN: You're welcome.

HU: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.
Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money .She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.
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