- By Clare SestanovichClare Sestanovich and Sylvie Stein are researchers at Foreign Policy.
A heartwarming scene from The Red Balloon it was not: when South Korean schoolchildren launched fifty balloons into the sky on Thursday, no one stopped to oh and ah. The man who spotted the air-borne rubber fleet twenty miles outside the capital city Seoul mistook the colorful orbs for parachutes and instantly raised the alarm. A military and police investigation was quickly mounted, only to conclude that the would-be North Korean invaders were in fact the steadily deflating remains of a local school celebration.
The incident is one more laugh for international observers — and one more sign of just how high tensions are running in South Korea in the wake of the March 26 explosion of the Cheonan. (This isn’t the first false alarm on the Peninsula in recent weeks: the discovery of an abandoned diving suit on the heels of an unexplained coastal explosion set police on high alert. Thankfully — or just embarrassingly — investigators concluded nothing was awry.)
But for South Korean security officials, it’s better safe than sorry: facing strong criticism within the country for their mishandling of the Cheonan incident, top military leaders stepped down, and remaining forces pledged to improve their level of responsiveness.
(Balloons have been the source of Korean controversy before: read about this defector’s helium-powered propaganda.)