HAGATNA, Guam -- Guam’s leader said Monday that “sometimes a bully can only be stopped with a punch in the nose”, in a spirited defense of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric against North Korea which has the island in its crosshairs.
While Trump’s critics accuse him of inflaming tensions with Pyongyang, Guam governor Eddie Calvo said he was grateful the US leader was taking a strong stance against North Korean threats to his Pacific homeland.
“Everyone who grew up in the schoolyard in elementary school, we understand a bully,” Calvo told AFP.
“(North Korean leader) Kim Jong-Un is a bully with some very strong weapons... a bully has to be countered very strongly.”
Calvo, a Republican, said Trump was being unfairly criticised over his handling of the North Korea crisis, which escalated when Pyongyang announced plans to launch missiles toward Guam in a “crucial warning”.
He said North Korea had threatened Guam — a US territory which hosts two large military bases and is home to more than 6,000 military personnel — at least three times since 2013.
Trump has responded by threatening “fire and fury”, warning last week that the US military was “locked and loaded” to respond to any aggression.
“President Trump is not your conventional elected leader, what he says and how he says it is a lot different from what was said by previous presidents,” Calvo said.
But he pointed out previous presidents had also used strong words to warn off Pyongyang, including Barack Obama who said last year that “we could, obviously, destroy North Korea with our arsenals”.
“One president (Obama) said it one way, cool and calmly with a period... the other said fire and fury with an exclamation point, but it still leads to the same message,” Calvo said.
He rejected suggestions that Trump and the North Korean dictator were as bad as each other when it came to the sabre-rattling playing out in the western Pacific.
“Well there’s only one guy that has vaporized into a red mist his uncle or a general because he fell asleep in a meeting with an anti-aircraft gun, that’s Kim Jong-Un,” he said.
“There’s only one guy that’s killed his brother with one of the most toxic nerve agents ever created, that’s Kim Jong-Un.”
‘Safe place to visit’
Some regional players such as China have urged Trump to tone down his rhetoric but Calvo called on them to do more to contain Pyongyang, saying “no one wants to see a war”.
“It’s not only in the interests of America and its allies, but also China and Russia to see this fellow does not continue in his effort towards nuclearisation or longer-range missiles,” he said.
“You’re allowed to voice those opinions without going to prison, whether you’re for the military or against it, unlike North Korea,” he said. He acknowledged there were “varying opinions” among Guam’s 160,000 residents about the huge US military presence on the island but insisted the majority of inhabitants backed it.
Calvo also dismissed criticism of the US-operated THAAD weapons system, which has been deployed in Guam and is capable of destroying intermediate-range missiles in the final phase of flight.
“It’s meant not to shoot people, it’s meant to shoot at missiles that kill people,” he said.
Calvo said he did not expect the crisis would have a major impact on the island’s tourism industry, which draws more than 1.5 million tourists a year.
“Guam’s a safe place to go to. Even though all this stuff is going on in the airwaves there has been no added threat level,” he said.
“I’m welcoming all the people of the world to come visit Guam, it’s a beautiful place.”