GALLERY: As international tensions mount, life goes on for N. Koreans

Despite escalating tensions between the international community and North Korea, the everyday lives of the country's people appear largely unaffected in the capital and elsewhere. North Korean people say they have grown accustomed to international sanctions and are unafraid of repeated warnings of more pressure from the United States and its allies. At least that is what average people are telling foreigners. But it could not be further from the truth that they remain unshaken by the current circumstances, further heightened by the war of words between their country and U.S. President Donald Trump. "We've always lived with the sanctions so that we think U.N resolutions enabling them are like just pieces of papers," Jong Wang Myong, a 23-year-old university student, said in central Pyongyang, after hearing the news on Friday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un released an extraordinary statement vowing that Trump would "pay dearly" for his threat to destroy the country. Trump said about a week ago it is "too bad" that "long gas lines (are) forming in North Korea." A group of Kyodo journalists entered North Korea just a few days after Trump's blunt Twitter message and saw nearly 10 service stations in different parts of the country, none of which had long lines. Traffic flow is as usual, causing congestion during rush hours in some central areas, and there are yet no noticeable changes in currency exchange rates and food prices, although two rounds of U.N. sanctions were introduced in August and September in the wake of North Korea's continued nuclear and missile tests. There have been also no obvious differences in the amount of items sold at shops. And, according to North Korean citizens, taxi fares are unchanged and gas prices remain relatively stable as well after they shot up in April. Still, of course, some changes were seen in the course of about half a month. One of them is that a number of buildings are now adorned with new colorful posters expressing the country's determination to fully reject the sanctions, which may, on the contrary, reflect a creeping sense of unease among ordinary citizens that they could have a profound impact on their lives in the months ahead. After conducting its most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3, North Korea was hit with additional U.N. sanctions, which ban 90 percent of its publicly-reported exports and limit the amount of oil it can import. Some North Koreans, nevertheless, say they are confident about finding ways to get around supply problems, even if they become acute in the future. "There is going to be no problem. Even if more sanctions are imposed, we will be certain to circumvent them," Ri Yong Su, a 60-year-old man, said after being approached for comment while he was strolling at a park in Wonsan, a city on the country's east coast, about 200 kilometers by car to reach from Pyongyang. "We don't have to worry," Ri said at the site where the Mangyongbong-92 passenger-cargo ferry, which used to travel to Japan until its entry was banned more than a decade ago as part of Tokyo's sanctions, is at anchor. Kim Jin Hyang, a 22-year-old employee of the Wonsan Shoes Factory, is proud that a large number of manufacturing facilities in her country have made progress in achieving "100 percent domestic production" over the last several years. Her factory, which produces 300,000 pairs of shoes annually for men, women and children, had to import rubber before, but she said all materials are currently domestically procured. "Despite the U.S.-led sanctions, we have everything we need in our hands," she said. "We will not be affected by them at all. Prior to the Sept. 3 sixth nuclear test and its second launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan in less than a month on Sept. 15, North Korea's relations with much of the world were already tense. They became especially so after North Korea in July launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles, potentially capable of reaching the mainland United States some day with a nuclear warhead. North Korea's first-ever ICBM launch came on July 4, the U.S. Independence Day, at a time when the Trump administration was still struggling to formulate a viable approach to dealing with Pyongyang. At Kim Il Sung Square in the heart of Pyongyang, thousands of university students have been mobilized every day since mid-September to practice for a mass dance party. They are preparing for the event to be held on Oct. 8 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Kim Jong Il, the current leader's father, who died in late 2011, being named general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, according to local people. Two days after that is every year's major celebration of the foundation of the ruling party. It is unclear what Kim meant by the "highest-level" of retaliatory action against Trump in the statement in response to the U.S. president's threat to devastate North Korea made during his speech on the U.N. floor on Tuesday. North Korea has frequently carried out major weapons tests around important dates on its calendar. While Trump's debut address to the U.N. General Assembly caused a stir internationally, in North Korea, a great deal of attention was given to the 20th Taekwon-Do World Championships it hosted in Pyongyang at a newly renovated hall. The underlying theme of the biannual sports event, involving about 490 players and delegates from a total of 69 countries and regions, including Britain, Bulgaria, China, Kazakhstan and Russia, was "justice" and "peace." Believing North Korea does not want a war with any country, Michael Prewett, president of the European International Taekwon-Do Federation, said, "I do not hope there will be escalations." "Whatever his feelings are, he should act with diplomacy," Prewett said in reference to Trump, who told the annual U.N. meeting the United States will have "no choice but to totally destroy North Korea" if it is forced to defend itself or its allies. Trump also mocked the North Korean leader as "Rocket Man" on "a suicide mission for himself and for his regime." "This U.S. president should not be saying things like this even if he thinks it," Prewett said. "It helps nobody."

9 hours ago | KYODO NEWS

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