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The alarm over the North Korean “airstrike” worries citizens

A screenshot of an emergency alert sent to residents of Gyeonggi and Gangwon provinces on Tuesday evening warns that unidentified objects, most likely containing North Korean propaganda leaflets, have been detected, using the English term

A screenshot of an emergency alert sent to residents of Gyeonggi and Gangwon provinces on Tuesday evening warns that unidentified objects, most likely containing North Korean propaganda leaflets, have been detected, using the English term “airstrike”. Yonhap

There is growing criticism over ambiguous wording that has caused concern and confusion

Author: Jung Da-hyun

The sudden alarm about North Korea’s propaganda leaflets aimed at South Korea sent residents of Gyeonggi and Gangwon provinces into a state of deep anxiety and confusion late Tuesday evening.

The issuance of the warning caused a wave of controversy, not only questioning its necessity, but also analyzing the appropriateness of the English phrase “preliminary air raid warning”, which caused panic among some recipients.

Concern was particularly high because Kim Jong-un’s regime had recently escalated tensions on the Korean Peninsula by launching a military spy satellite the previous evening.

According to Gyeonggi Province, the next day, an alert was sent to 13 cities and counties in the province at around 11:32 p.m. on Tuesday. He warned residents about unknown objects floating in the air, which were likely carrying propaganda leaflets from the north, and advised them to stay at home while reporting any discoveries to local authorities.

Alarms were also sounded in Yanggu and Inje in Gangwon province just after midnight.

This decision came after the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) announced the detection of objects that later turned out to be balloons. By 4 p.m. on Wednesday, more than 260 such balloons had been found in South Korea, and some had even spread far beyond the border regions to Jeolla and Gyeongsang provinces.

According to the South Korean military, this was the highest total number of accidents in a single day ever recorded, compared to similar incidents in 2016 and 2018. According to the South Korean military, the fallen balloons contained various pieces of garbage and even animal feces.

Critics highlighted the confusion caused by the use of the term “raid”, which usually refers to enemy airstrikes and bomb drops.

Foreign residents have expressed their anger and confusion online, criticizing the use of the term. Some shared anecdotes about the extreme shock they experienced upon receiving the warning, several said they almost had a heart attack, and others said they began preparing to evacuate. Some compared it to a previous incident in which Seoul’s citizens received an evacuation alert in the early morning hours of May 31, 2023, in response to a North Korean missile launch.

According to a Gyeonggi provincial official, the Capital Corps asked the provincial office to send an emergency warning on Tuesday around 11 p.m. After internal verification, an alert was sent, the content of which was strictly consistent with the military message.

A balloon possibly sent by North Korea and carrying garbage was found in rice fields in Cheorwon, Gangwon province, on Wednesday.  Yonhap

A balloon possibly sent by North Korea and carrying garbage was found in rice fields in Cheorwon, Gangwon province, on Wednesday. Yonhap

The official explained that the English translation of the warning was generated automatically by the National Disaster Management Information System. The term “raid” was combined with the term “airplane” from the optional items list, reflecting unidentified objects that likely contain propaganda leaflets aimed at the South.

The official further explained that options for selecting warning terminology also include ballistic missiles and reconnaissance satellites. However, an airplane was considered the most appropriate description of the objects.

There were also questions about the need to introduce a state of emergency.

“I was talking to a friend on the phone and was very surprised when the alert rang. The message was quite ambiguous, which scared me even more, so I checked it online,” said Yoo Seung-min, an office worker living in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.

Citizens also criticized the warning message for its lack of precise information, arguing that it unnecessarily increased public fear.

“It would be better to specify what exactly people should watch out for,” said a 30-year-old worker surnamed Kim, who lives in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province.

“I have seen news reports about potential threats, including the possibility of biological or chemical weapons, but the warning only mentioned unknown North Korean objects without providing further details.”

JCS explained that the decision to issue the warning was based on the potential risk to residents. They found that falling objects could pose a serious hazard, especially if they landed on roads, where they could cause accidents or damage to vehicles and pedestrians at night.