North Korea has threatened to strike Guam, a US territory in the Pacific known for its white-sand beaches, following the US President’s threat to unleash “fire and fury” against Pyongyang.
For Pyongyang, Guam is seen as a prime target because it’s the closest US military presence on American soil to North Korea, and because military assets from here are sometimes deployed near the Korean Peninsula.
That proximity has long placed it in North Korea’s crosshairs, but the escalating war of words has put this territory of 160,000 civilians on edge.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t be worried because we never know if they’ll decide to follow through this time,” said Tayana Pangelinan, a resident of Dededo, the island’s most populated village.
“But, considering Guam supposedly has a massive quantity of weapons, all I can do is pray and trust all will be OK.”
Arriving on the island Wednesday, life appears to be proceeding as normal.
“Welcome to Ground Zero,” a US customs official joked on arrival, aware of the North Korean threat but laughing it off with a bit of gallows humor.
In addition to tourists, the island also hosts around 5,000 US troops at two US military bases. Dubbed the “tip of the spear,” Guam is a key to the US military’s forward deployed presence in the Pacific.
Its importance has declined since World War II, given the creation of military bases in Japan and South Korea, but analysts say it still plays a key role in the Pacific.
Confidence in military
Many locals in Guam are confident in the protection afforded by the US military.
“North Korea has a good fight on their hands if they’re going to try to mess with Guam,” said resident Andrea Salas.
However, Jeremiah Tenorio said even with the THAAD in place, he’s still concerned.
“There’s no real protection against a missile, in my opinion.”
Guam Governor Eddie Baza Calvo reassured the island’s residents that there was no change in the threat level resulting from North Korea.
He told CNN that while there was some fear, people were used to living with North Korean posturing.
However, he expressed some concern over the recent statements of some US politicians, singling out Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham.
Calvo suggested that this was dangerous talk.
“If there was to be conflict in this region, understand that there is an archipelago, 600 miles long called the Marianas that encompasses two US territories — Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“You’re also talking over 200,000 American citizens, civilians, that will be caught in the crosshairs.”