The World Today for July 08, 2021

NEED TO KNOW

NORTH KOREA

Thinner

North Koreans are worried about their supreme leader’s weight loss.

“Our people’s hearts ached most when we saw (Kim Jong Un’s) emaciated looks,” said North Korean state-owned media, according to USA Today. “Everyone says their tears are welling up in their eyes naturally.”

The 5-foot-8, 37-year-old appeared to have dropped almost 44 pounds when he recently addressed the country on state television. He likely still weighs more than twice as much as the average 115-pound North Korean, the New York Times added.

Perhaps the North Koreans were truly concerned about the normally rotund Kim’s weight loss. But they could have also been lamenting his government’s terrible stewardship of the so-called Hermit Kingdom during the coronavirus pandemic.

North Korea officially has zero cases of the coronavirus. Even so, Kim recently went on television to say the country faced a “grave crisis” due to Covid-19, NBC News reported. He blamed bureaucrats and others for their “chronic irresponsibility and incompetence” and reshuffled some top posts, as Reuters explained. Experts weren’t sure if he was discussing an isolated outbreak of the virus or if infection rates had climbed across the country.

Still, this being North Korea, Kim took a break from lamenting the crisis to again warn against foreign influences and advise women to sing patriotic songs, write letters to soldiers, protect children from ‘alien’ influences and wear traditional clothing that makes “all the aspects of life brim over with our flavor, taste and national emotions.”

Meanwhile, the coronavirus is just one of Kim’s problems.

United Nations sanctions, China’s closure of the North Korean border due to Covid-19 fears and drought last year that has given way to typhoon rains and flooding have caused severe food shortages in the East Asian country, reported Al Jazeera. Many fear that a famine resembling the country’s food crisis in the 1990s is on the way.

Food prices have skyrocketed in the capital of Pyongyang, according to CNN. A packet of coffee is selling for $100. Black tea is going for $70.

Still, Kim publicly warning of a crisis might have been a diplomatic move, an opening for foreign powers to engage with Kim to see if he might take some action, like slowing his country’s nuclear weapons program, in exchange for food aid.

“In the 1990s, when North Korea was undergoing a famine, there was an opportunity to provide humanitarian aid to North Koreans,” said Wilson Center Senior Fellow Jean Lee, a North Korea expert, in an interview with National Public Radio. “Perhaps we’re starting to see the groundwork for discussion around some sort of humanitarian aid.”

Perhaps, someone should tell Kim he should just ask politely.

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