With Guam becoming the center of attention because of concerns over North Korea’s nuclear threats, some, including President Donald Trump, see the island’s newfound notoriety as a good thing.
During a phone call Friday with Eddie Baza Calvo, the Republican governor of the U.S. territory in the Western Pacific, Trump said that the attention would boost tourism “tenfold” – even as he continued to escalate rhetoric against North Korea. In talking about the heightened international attention to the island, Margaret Metcalfe, director of Calvo’s Washington office, said: “None of this is good publicity.”
“I’m just saying that is the result of what’s happening. Nobody asked for it. Nobody wanted it. It happened,” she told the Washington Post on Saturday, adding: “We pray day and night. … And we hope that calmness prevail and balance prevail. We certainly don’t what to do anything that would put our families at risk.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has threatened to fire a missile to land near Guam, a strategic U.S. military base.
Asked about the president’s positive tourism assessment amid escalating nuclear threats, Metcalfe described Trump as an outside thinker and said tourists are continuing to visit Guam.
“I don’t think anyone can really predict what our president may offer, because he is one of those thinkers outside the box,” Metcalfe said. “But right now, I can tell you, in Guam, our flights are arriving from South Korea and Japan. … Tourists are coming as normal even with all these fights from the media.”
Tourists, for the most part, seem to be undeterred by the threats. Few have so far canceled vacations, the Pacific Daily News reported this week. Residents remained calm, even as the government advises them on how to handle an attack.
Others have stocked up on bottled waters, batteries and portable fans, but those are staples for prepping for typhoons, according to the Pacific Daily News.
“It is business as usual” on the island, as the Guam Chamber of Commerce said earlier this week in response to North Korea’s threats.
Such threats are not at all new for Guamanians, and awareness among mainland Americans is simply heightened now because of the attention from the media, said Metcalfe, a national committeewoman for the Republican Party of Guam who ran for Congress in 2014 and 2016.
“Like anything else, if something is promoted in the media, that is going to enhance whatever’s going on right now,” she said, adding later. “The concern we have before was that a lot of people don’t know where we were. Now people know where we are.”
The Guam Visitor’s Bureau sees that as a silver lining.
Several hours ago, the visitor’s bureau promoted a three-minute fireworks show at one of the island’s resorts on its Facebook page. The day before, it posted a picture of the blue water and white sand on Hagatña Bay with “#visitguam #fortheloveofweekends.”
And on Wednesday, the same day the Korean Central News Agency announced the threat, the visitor’s bureau shared a news release saying Guam’s tourism numbers have hit a new record. Nearly 133,000 tourists visited Guam last July, surpassing the top record from 1997.
“The circumstances are unfortunate, but this is a good opportunity for us to educate the world about Guam and our culture, about where we are and who we are,” Josh Tyquiengco, the bureau’s marketing director, told the Agence France-Presse.
Calvo said earlier this week that “there is no change in the threat level resulting from North Korea events.” He also praised the response from the president, who said that an attack on the United States would be met with “fire and fury.” Trump later said that those comments may not have been “tough enough.”
“As far as I’m concerned, as an American citizen, I want a president that says that if any nation such as North Korea attack Guam, attack Honolulu, attack the west coast, they will be met with hell and fury,” Calvo told Fox News’s Tucker Carlson Wednesday.
The dynamic between the two leaders was apparent Friday, when Calvo posted a video of his end of the call with Trump.
“I just wanted to pay my respects, and we are with you 1,000 percent. You are safe,” Trump told Calvo at the outset of the call, which appeared to last about three minutes, according to the video.
In response, Calvo said he has “never felt more safe or so confident” with Trump in charge.
Unprompted, Trump offered this assessment: “Eddie, I have to tell you, you’ve become extremely famous. … I think – tourism, I can say this, your tourism, you’re going to go up like tenfold with the expenditure of no money, so I congratulate you. … It just looks like a beautiful place.”
Others, however, are more critical, saying Trump needs to tone down his antagonistic language.
“His bellicose statements will not make our nation any safer and will only further elevate tensions between the United States and North Korea … President Trump must reaffirm his commitment to Guam’s security and make clear that he will not allow any escalation to further threaten our island. Guam is not a bargaining chip,” Rep. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, said in a statement earlier this week.
Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, also a U.S. territory, are home to more than 200,000 Americans. More than 160,000 of whom live on Guam.