SEOUL, South Korea North Korea warned Tuesday that foreigners in South Korea should look for shelter or consider evacuating because the Korean Peninsula was on the brink of nuclear war.
But South Korean President Park Geun-hye said she remained determined not to succumb to the North's efforts to escalate tensions to extract concessions from the South.
The North's warning followed a similar advisory last week in which it told foreign embassies in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, to devise evacuation plans.
"The situation on the Korean Peninsula is inching close to a thermonuclear war due to the evermore undisguised hostile actions of the United States and the South Korean puppet warmongers," the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, a North Korean state agency, said in a statement Tuesday. "It does not want to see foreigners in South Korea fall victim to the war."
In South Korea, where people have long grown used to North Korean bluster or learned to shut themselves off from a situation out of their control, there were few signs of anxiety after the warning. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul said the State Department's travel notice on South Korea remained unchanged Tuesday.
"Despite current political tensions with North Korea, there is no specific information to suggest there are imminent threats to U.S. citizens or facilities in the Republic of Korea," said the travel message, which was last updated Friday, using the official name of South Korea. "The embassy has not changed its security posture, and we have not recommended that U.S. citizens who reside in, or plan to visit, the Republic of Korea take special security precautions at this time."
The Korea Tourism Organization said the latest torrent of North Korean threats has had little effect on tourism, with the number of Chinese tourists doubling during a vacation week last week, said Lee Kwang-soo, a spokesman. Still, it was taking precautionary measures reaching out to foreign tourist agencies to inform them that it was safe to visit South Korea, he said.
"This is not the first time North Korea acts like this," said Song Hyun-seok, an official at the South Korean office of the Philippine Department of Tourism.
Gloria Lee, a spokeswoman at Lotte Hotel, one of South Korea's biggest hotel chains, reported a 30 percent drop in Japanese guests this year but assigned the problem not to North Korea but to the weakening Japanese yen and fraying political ties between South Korea and Japan.
But DMZ Tour Corp., a company that specializes in taking tourists to the heavily militarized border with North Korea to experience one of the world's last reminders of Cold War tensions, has seen its business shrink in recent weeks.
"We have foreign tourists calling us to ask whether it's safe to go to the border," said Yoo Jae-sung, a company official who declined to reveal how many tourists his company lost to the tensions. "Yesterday, a group of Australian tourists had a vote among themselves after agreeing that if any one of them was afraid to go to the border, they would cancel the trip. They went."
South Korean officials and analysts said North Korea was extremely unlikely to start a war.
Rather, they said, its warning was psychological warfare aimed at heightening a sense of crisis to rattle investors' confidence in the South's globalized economy and force Washington and its allies to return to the negotiating table. In that vein, the North may launch a medium-range missile this week, they said.
On Tuesday, Park rebutted North Korea's escalating pressure tactics by vowing to break the pattern of rewarding North Korea for its bad behavior with compromises and economic assistance.
"How long are we going to repeat this vicious cycle where the North Koreans create tensions and we give them compromises and aid?" she told a Cabinet meeting called a day after the North pulled out all its 54,000 workers from the Kaesong industrial park, which is jointly run with the South.
The North Korean withdrawal of workers from Kaesong on Monday effectively shuttered the last remaining example of inter-Korean cooperation, one that had survived despite military tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula.