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People On Guam Remain Calm Despite North Korea's Threats


President Trump let loose in not one but two impromptu press conferences with reporters from his working vacation in Bedminster, N.J. Among the many topics he cycled through, Trump doubled down on the warlike talk with North Korea, warning things will happen to them like they never thought possible.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He has disrespected our country greatly. He has said things that are horrific. And with me, he's not getting away with it. He got away with it for a long time between him and his family. He's not getting away with it. It's a whole new ballgame.

CHANG: NPR's Asia correspondent Elise Hu is in Guam now, which North Korea has threatened to target. Hey, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hey, there. Good morning.

CHANG: Good morning. OK, so how are these latest comments likely to be received by North Korea?

HU: Well, the regime loves it because North Korea pins all of its domestic propaganda on this notion of an evil, imperialist America, right? So for North Korea to have the U.S. president actually engage in verbal battles on their level is fantastic for the regime. They spend so much of the meager national budget there on the nuclear program. And it's sold to the public by saying, hey, we're the victims. We have to have a deterrent to fight off the U.S. So propaganda-wise, that's great for North Korea.

But when it comes to actual mobilization there, the notion that the military might be preparing for conflict, the analysts I've spoken with say there's no signs of that right now. And we have to be clear that North Korea this week did not threaten to attack Guam. It said it wants to test fire missiles into the international waters around Guam. So there is a possibility for misunderstanding at this moment if leaders aren't careful.

CHANG: OK, so you think this tough talk that's going back and forth between President Trump and North Korea, it's not escalating to such a situation that we cannot de-escalate at this point. Is that what you're saying?

HU: That's what allies are saying, for sure (laughter). That's what China, that's what South Korea, that's what Japan is - and arguably the State Department is saying. You know, there are still many ways out of this diplomatically and with engagement.

CHANG: OK, well, you are in Guam right now. I was wondering, can you tell us if the local government there is ready in case there is a missile launch or some other worst-case scenario?

HU: Well, the governor of Guam, Eddie Baza Calvo, says yes. He was actually quite relaxed when I went to see him earlier today. And he said what the local government is doing right now is really just reviewing procedures and processes, keeping up with coordination - its regular coordination, really - with Homeland Security and the U.S. military.

You recall that Guam is home to a naval base and a U.S. air base. And its location near the equator, about 4,000 miles west of Hawaii, means it's often caught in typhoons. This is typhoon alley. So Calvo compared the preparedness here for a strike as similar to that of a natural disaster.

EDDIE BAZA CALVO: I'd say we built a very sophisticated and a mature structure in regards to dissemination of facts on the ground and information and allowing for preparedness.

CHANG: You mention typhoons, that Calvo's trying to get people to prepare as if this were a natural disaster. But does comparing a missile strike to, say, a tropical storm strike you as underplaying the situation?

HU: The governor says he doesn't mean to underplay this. But he also doesn't want to overplay it. So he's just trying to strike the right balance here.

CHANG: Right. So how are people on the island responding to all this international attention they're getting right now?

HU: Well, there's not alarm here. There's some caution, but no alarm. And that's largely because this isn't the first time that Guam has been threatened. There is, though, some growing annoyance among residents about how the U.S. president is talking about North Korea because they say he's almost daring Pyongyang to strike. And that's extremely dangerous for the people who live here.

If you look at it one way, Guam is in such a strategically important location for the U.S. here in the Pacific that it's called the tip of the spear. But for locals, this is home. I spoke with Robert Underwood, the former delegate to the U.S. Congress from Guam and currently the president of the university here. And he says he wishes the administration gave a little bit more regard to Guamanians.

ROBERT UNDERWOOD: How do people really see Guam in the context of the U.S. family? You know, are we being held hostage and the hostage negotiator on your side is saying, go ahead and shoot and see what will happen to you afterwards?

CHANG: All right, we'll have to leave it there. NPR's Elise Hu reporting in Guam. Thanks, Elise.

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

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.
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