President Donald Trump yesterday reassured Guam it was secure amid mounting regional tensions, vowing that American military forces “stand ready” to safeguard the US Pacific island territory against a belligerent North Korea.
The North has threatened to fire ballistic missiles over Japan toward the tourism-dependent idyllic island, as Pyongyang and Washington ratchet up their war of words.
With Guam’s safety in the balance, Trump assured the territory’s Governor Eddie Calvo: “We are with you 1000%, you are safe.”
A member of Trump’s Republican Party, Calvo insisted during the two men’s call that “I have never felt more safe or so confident with you at the helm,” according to his office.
“We’re going to do a great job, don’t worry about a thing,” Trump then added. “They should have had me eight years ago, or somebody with my thought process.”
Trump has warned the North that it would “truly regret” attacking the US, and that the US military is “locked and loaded”. Earlier this week, he threatened “fire and fury”.
The North’s official KCNA news service, for its part, accused Trump in an editorial of “driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war,” calling the US “the heinous nuclear war fanatic”.
Key Pyongyang ally Beijing, meanwhile, has pleaded with Trump to tone down his rhetoric to prevent tensions from boiling over. If North Korea does launch a missile strike, there is a public warning system in place and a 14-minute window to react, Guam Homeland Security said.
On Friday, it posted guidelines on its website about measures to take in the event of a nuclear attack.
“Expect to stay inside for at least 24 hours unless otherwise told by authorities,” the advisory warned.
“If caught outside, do not look at the flash or fireball — It can blind you. Take cover behind anything that might offer protection. Lie flat on the ground and cover your head.”
It also offered advice on removing radioactive fallout, telling residents to “take a shower with lots of soap and water”, use shampoo but avoid conditioner “because it will bind radioactive material to your hair”.
And yet tourism officials are jumping on the unusually high attention to the territory as an opportunity to attract more visitors to the island of 162,000 people that draws more than 1.5mn tourists a year.
“The circumstances are unfortunate but this is a good opportunity for us to educate the world about Guam and our culture, about where we are, and who we are,” Guam Visitors Bureau marketing director Josh Tyquiengco told AFP.
“Guam is more than a military base. We are a safe family destination. We reassure potential visitors that we continue to be a safe...place to visit.”
He said there had only been a few booking cancellations from South Korea. And island dwellers say they fear a powerful typhoon more than the wrath of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“Kim Jong Un is as crazy as typhoons but I am more scared of typhoons because they are real threats,” said Rolando Zepeda, 57, a teacher at Saint Anthony’s School. Calvo, who noted that this is not the first time North Korea has threatened the island, bluntly told Guam residents to simply conduct their daily business “as usual”.
Guam hosts two US military installations and 6,000 US soldiers — making it an attractive target for the North.
“United States forces stand ready to ensure the safety and security of the people of Guam, along with the rest of America,” the White House said in a summary of Trump’s call with Calvo.
In an earlier call, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told Calvo: “We are all over this... The wonderful island of Guam is very well protected.”
Pyongyang has said it would take less than 18 minutes for a missile to cross the 3,400km distance to the US territory. In addition to the US military bases, Guam is also equipped with the sophisticated THAAD weapons system which is capable of destroying intermediate-range missiles in the final phase of flight.
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