The Pacific island of Guam remained outwardly calm on Wednesday in the face of a threatened North Korean attack, and a senior official in the US territory urged people to “relax and enjoy paradise”. After US President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” over its nuclear ambitions yesterday, Pyongyang raised the stakes just hours later — saying it was considering missile strikes near US strategic military installations on Guam.
In a televised address to the 162,000 residents on the Western Pacific island, Governor Eddie Calvo said Guam was working with Washington “to ensure our safety”. “I want to reassure the people of Guam that currently there is no threat to our island,” he said. George Charfauros, the territory’s homeland security adviser, said there was “0.000001 percent chance of the North Korean missile hitting Guam”.
His advice to residents to “relax and enjoy the paradise” appeared to hit home. There was no evidence of panic buying in stores Wednesday and gas stations were operating normally. Shop worker Chelsea Nu told AFP the threat of attack was not even a conversation topic in her store. “I haven’t heard people talk about it. The customer traffic is normal. They’re just buying school supplies because the school’s just opened.” Guam, which advertises pristine beaches, clear blue skies and “world-famous sunsets” is a popular destination, with tourism a key pillar of its economy.
But it is also home to about 6,000 US troops and houses two US military installations — the Andersen Air Force Base and the Naval Base Guam. Despite the significant contribution the military makes to the local economy, there is a small but growing opposition to its presence. Nationalists argue the territory is a potential target of aggression due to the presence of US forces.
But Calvo said it was the military which provided protection. “Those who are against the military will keep that distinction and make that argument. In the same manner, those who support the presence of the military on Guam will argue that this is what keeps us safe,” he said. Guam was described by President Barack Obama’s defence secretary Ashton Carter as “an important strategic hub for the US military in the Western Pacific”.
Calvo said there were “several levels of defence” strategically placed to protect Guam and he had been assured by the White House that a strike on the territory would be considered an attack on the United States. “They have said that America will be defended. I also want to remind national media that Guam is American soil and we have 200,000 Americans in Guam and the Marianas. We are not just a military installation.