Before leaving Seoul last week, I stopped by the TBS eFM studio, overlooking the city from the slope of Namsan mountain, to discuss the G-20 outcomes with Hans Schattle and his gracious team at the ‘This Morning’ programme.
Schattle played a small role in the diversion that unfolded at the end of US President Barack Obama’s G-20 press conference on 12 November. Obama had taken questions only from the corps that followed him to Seoul, but the president caught everyone off guard with an off-the-cuff call for a final question from the South Korean press. The offer was promptly seized by a reporter who then revealed himself to be not Korean but in fact from China’s CCTV. (Evan Osnos at the New Yorker documents the confusion—and the subsequent firestorm on the Chinese blogosphere—that ensued.)
The ‘Korean reporter’ who finally got to question Obama was none other than Schattle, who shouted his credentials as an American citizen AND a representative of South Korean media over the din. (Kudos to both journalists for dogged persistence.)
That Schattle should show such grace under pressure comes as little surprise—he broadcasts live from a haunted studio. This I learned from one of his show’s writers as we loitered outside the studio door, waiting my turn at the microphone.
‘It’s the ghost of a teenage girl,’ she said.
An engineer, standing nearby, concurred. ‘With long, black hair, just like in the movies.’
With that, the ON AIR light blinked off. She yanked open the studio door and pushed me inside.
By all accounts, Seoul residents are showing similar sangfroid in the face of the far more tangible threat of North Korean belligerence. Pyongyang, silent during the G-20 meetings, revealed a clandestine uranium enrichment facility last week, then launched an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong island Tuesday, killing two.
It was an unmistakeable cry for attention. As Seoul casts around for an appropriate response, China and the US appear destined to lock horns again.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei expressed ‘concern’ without condemnation. ‘Dialogue through artillery fire is rarely an effective means to settle a dispute,’ opined the People’s Daily, the Communist Party newspaper. It went on to blame Seoul and Washington for failing to ‘fix North Korea’s sense of insecurity’.
The USS George Washington is en route to the Yellow Sea to participate in war games with the South Korean Navy. China will certainly oppose the presence of the aircraft carrier so close to its waters, and it is likely to do so more vehemently than it chastened North Korea.