Wednesday 22 January 2020

'You're going to be very famous' Trump consoles island in firing line

Guam dispatch US president's war of words drags Guam front and centre

Solace: Guam governor Eddie Baza Calvo has praised Donald Trump’s response. Picture: Reuters
Solace: Guam governor Eddie Baza Calvo has praised Donald Trump’s response. Picture: Reuters

Nicola Smith

Donald Trump yesterday assured the tiny Pacific island of Guam that America backed it "1,000pc" amid threats of a North Korean missile strike in a crisis he claimed would boost the territory's tourism industry "tenfold".

"We are with you 1,000pc. You are safe," Mr Trump told Eddie Bazza Calvo, the Guam governor, who later posted footage of the call on speakerphone to his Facebook page. The governor praised the US president's handling of the latest escalation of tensions with North Korea, in which Pyongyang threatened to attack Guam, a US territory, with four ballistic missiles.

"We're going to do a great job, don't worry about a thing," Mr Trump responded. "They should have had me eight years ago."

He added: "You've become extremely famous. All over the world they're talking about Guam... and your tourism. I can say this, your tourism, you're going to see it go up tenfold... so I congratulate you. It looks beautiful."

His words may offer some solace for the tropical paradise where 60pc of the economy relies on tourists from Japan, South Korea and mainland America, and another 30pc on two strategic US military bases.

About 1.5 million tourists travel to Guam every year, dwarfing the population of 162,000 US citizens.

Nathan Denight, chief executive of the Guam Visitors Bureau, said his organisation's 450 members had discussed the potential impact of Pyongyang's threat.

"There have been inquiries into the situation, but by communicating that Guam is safe, people are still moving forward with their travels," he said.

Some tour operators remain on edge. John Ko, who runs a room-booking website, NET Enterprises, said there had been cancellations but did not say what reasons were given. Tourists strolling near the beachfront in Guam's capital, Hagatna, confessed to feeling nervous.

"It's a serious situation. Last night I kept thinking about Kim Jong-un's missiles, and my mother asked me to come home a few days early," said Kim Yeon-woo, a South Korean teacher on holiday with her husband, Dae-hyun.

A drinks vendor, who declined to give his name, said business was slower than usual at Two Lover's Point, a tourist complex offering a stunning panorama across the bright blue waters of Hagatna's coastline. Another local man denied there had been any fallout, blaming "media over-sensationalism".

In the event of a missile strike, the sound of 15 sirens piercing the air would be the first warning for tourists and citizens that they had 14 minutes to get to safety. The alarm would be triggered by George Charfauros, Guam's homeland security adviser, less than a minute after US surveillance systems detected a launch. For a man with the responsibility of so many lives on his shoulders, Mr Charfauros was reassuringly calm.

"It's real simple. You hear the alarm, get inside, seek shelter," Mr Charfauros said.

While the island has no bunkers, a strong concrete building would serve as an adequate shelter, he added.

"Almost 95pc of our buildings are concrete, and the reason why is because of typhoons. The windows have typhoon shutters. All you have to do is go inside, close your shutters and wait it out."

Mr Charfauros's confidence rests on his belief that any missile would have a 0.00001pc chance of penetrating the multiple layers of US missile defence technology, including the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence [THAAD] system, which is based on Guam.

He believes Kim Jong-un's plan to fire four Hwasong-12 ballistic missiles within 20 miles of the island by mid-August is a sign that the dictator is bluffing: "It's part bluster and probably part of a ploy to force the US to play its hand."

Despite his bravado, the Homeland security office last Friday issued a two-page fact sheet on how to survive a nuclear attack - and officials urged families to prepare supplies and personal emergency plans. The advice was met with mixed reactions by locals in the shops of Hagatna.

"Guam is very small. It doesn't really matter if you look at the flash or not, you're gone. There's nothing we can do," said Jake Reyes (28), a security guard. Danny Ibanez, a church pastor, said the survival guide was reassuring.

In the Pay Less supermarket and a nearby K-Mart store, the aisles were empty and there was no evidence of stockpiling or panic-buying of water and tinned goods.

Elena Sanicolas, a customer entering the store with her young grandson, said they were going to buy supplies for a pool party. "You don't see anyone panicking or otherwise they would have to evacuate the island," she said.

"The newspaper says it only takes 14 minutes for their bomb to get here but... the Lord's going to take care of us."

And also yesterday China's leader, Xi Jinping, urged Trump to avoid rhetoric that could inflame tensions with North Korea.


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