Are the Samsung chairman’s whereabouts a North Korea war threat indicator?

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When North Korea started threatening violence last month we listed four reasons why another Korean War wasn’t likely. Two, possibly three, of those indicators have now changed. The Kaesong Industrial Complex, a key economic link between the two Koreas, has been closed and South Korea’s stock market has fallen, a sign that Korean investors, long jaded by the Pyongyang’s war blustering, are getting nervous. To top it off, today, (April 12) the Pentagon said it has reasonable confidence North Korea can put a nuclear warhead on a missile as US secretary of state John Kerry visits Seoul in hopes of finding a solution to the crisis.

But here’s a hopeful sign. The chairman of Samsung Electronic, Lee Kun-hee, has returned to Seoul after a three-month trip away. As the blog, SINO-NK says, the septuagenerian arrived last weekend and told reporters he had “met many people, took many trips, and planned for the future.” Planned for the future? That doesn’t sound like someone who expects the city that headquarters his conglomerate to be turned into a sea of fire. Was he worried about anything? One thing. His feet hurt because he wasn’t able to exercise much during his travels, according to SINO-NK’s translation of Korean reports.

Lee arriving in Seoul on April 6.
Lee arriving in Seoul on April 6.
Image: Chosun Ilbo

The fact that Lee’s chief concern upon returning to Seoul was his sore feet is a small comfort, or at least source of entertainment, to those below the 38th parallel. South Koreans have joked that they’ll know war is coming if Lee flees the country. One blogger wrote (link in Korean), “I guess it’s okay to set aside my war fears now that chairman Lee has returned to the homeland.”