The Jig is Up
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For more than two years, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un insisted that the coronavirus had not pierced his country’s population, even as health experts and media worldwide found evidence that the illness had spread throughout the globe.
Recently, however, Kim admitted that Covid-19 has reached the Hermit Kingdom, as the Associated Press reported. Kim was not happy. Blaming the “irresponsible work attitude” of North Korean public health officials, he recently instituted a lockdown in the capital of Pyongyang and called out the military to make sure medicines were distributed to the sick.
Just over 50 people have died as of mid-May, according to government officials. Those pronouncements should be taken with a grain of salt, analysts say. North Korea has a zero percent vaccination rate and a poor healthcare system.
“There’s probably an effort here to get on top of the narrative and to show Kim is addressing this head-on, while also pushing blame down the chain to the lower levels,” said Jenny Town, a North Korea analyst at the Stimson Center, a Washington, DC-based think tank, speaking to Axios.
In reality, North Korea is facing a coronavirus catastrophe, wrote Guardian. Out of a country of nearly 26 million, around 2.8 million have Covid-19 symptoms. The infections come as China, the country’s main trading partner, has closed its border due to its pandemic issues. Natural disasters have buffeted the country, causing food shortages. And Western sanctions related to Kim’s nuclear ambitions and missile tests are still in place.
As the Washington Post editorial board pointed out, Kim’s focus on defense has left his country vulnerable to other threats that missiles can’t stop. In fact, a massive military parade might have been a super-spreader event that got him into this situation, Insider noted. More than 20,000 soldiers participated in the event. The massive crowds who watched did not maintain social distance or wear masks.
The Post noted that Kim’s options are few, however. If he asks the international community for vaccines and other help, he’ll be admitting his failure. If he stays the course, famines could sweep the country. If he keeps spending on weapons, foreign leaders will further isolate him.
On the other hand, the Daily Beast argued that the pandemic is giving Kim an opportunity to exert even more control over North Korean society.
Kim aspires to god-like power. But being isolated at the top isn’t working out so well.