North Korea has backed off of its military threats, after shelling South Korean territory, but the South Koreans are still angry and defiant. In addition to mobilizing their military, the South Koreans have resumed a practice that had been halted for seven years out of deference to the North’s sensibilities. The South Koreans have allowed the lighting of a giant Christmas tree within sight of communist territory. The atheist regime is outraged.
As troops stood guard and a choir sang carols Tuesday, South Koreans lit a massive steel Christmas tree that overlooks the world’s most heavily armed border and is within sight of atheist North Korea.
The lighting of the tree after a seven-year hiatus marked a pointed return to a tradition condemned in Pyongyang as propaganda. The provocative ceremony – which needs government permission – was also a sign that President Lee Myung-bak’s administration is serious about countering the North’s aggression with measures of its own in the wake of an artillery attack that killed four South Koreans last month. . . .
Although the North has made some conciliatory gestures in recent days – indicating to a visiting U.S. governor that it might allow international inspections of its nuclear programs – Seoul appears unmoved.
Pyongyang has used a combination of aggression and reconciliation before to extract concessions from the international community, and the resurrection of the tree lighting at Aegibong is a signal that the South is ready to play hardball until it sees real change from the North. . . .
On Aegibong Peak, about a mile from the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean peninsula, marines toting rifles circled the Christmas tree as more than 100,000 twinkling lights blinked on. The brightly lit tree – topped with a cross – stood in stark relief to North Korea, where electricity is limited.
Choir members in white robes trimmed in blue and wearing red scarves and Santa Claus hats gathered beneath the steel structure draped with multicolored lights, illuminated stars and snowflakes. An audience of about 200 listened as they sang “Joy to the World” and other Christmas carols.
“I hope that Christ’s love and peace will spread to the North Korean people,” said Lee Young-hoon, a pastor of the Seoul church that organized the lighting ceremony. About 30 percent of South Koreans are Christian.
The 100-foot steel tree sits on a peak high enough for North Koreans in border towns to see it and well within reach of their country’s artillery. Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said an attack from North Korea was certainly possible but unlikely.
North Korea, officially atheist and with only a handful of sanctioned churches in Pyongyang with services for foreigners, warned that lighting the tree would constitute a “dangerous, rash act” with the potential to trigger a war.
As a precaution, dozens of armed troops took up position around the site during the lighting ceremony. Ambulances and fire trucks were parked nearby. Instructions placed on chairs at the ceremony advised participants to take cover in case of an attack.
“The danger of the enemy’s threat still exists,” the leaflet read, suggesting that participants hide behind concrete walls, crouch between chairs and move quickly to shelters in case of an attack.
The event took place uninterrupted.