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South Koreans stay calm as they see showmanship in the North’s escalating threats

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea’s recent escalation of threats and more tests of weapons aimed at South Korea haven’t done much to upset the calm in the nation’s capital.

“We learned to be numb,” said Renee Na, a 33-year-old office worker in Seoul who was one of a dozen South Koreans who sounded more indifferent than scared when talking with The Associated Press.

“Our generation grew up seeing North Korea use nuclear provocations as showmanship to maintain the stability of its regime,” Na said. “When they act up, it doesn’t feel like a real threat, but more like an annual event they stage when they need to shore up internal unity or want outside help.”

That’s a stark contrast to recent comments from Pyongyang, where leader Kim Jong Un said in January that his nation was abandoning its fundamental objective of peaceful reconciliation with South Korea. He also repeated a threat to annihilate the South if provoked.

At the same time, North Korea has conducted a streak of weapons testing, including what it described as simulated nuclear attacks on the South.

Worries about a direct provocation were amplified after the North fired hundreds of artillery shells into waters near its disputed western sea boundary with South Korea, prompting the South also to fire.

For now, there’s concern in South Korea — but not alarm.

And it’s nothing like 1994, when waves of panicked crowds emptied stores of instant ramen and rice after a North Korean negotiator threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire.”

North Korea has mastered a cycle of raising tensions with weapons demonstrations and threats before eventually offering negotiations aimed at extracting concessions. The result is that many South Koreans believe North Korea is using its