North Korean leader Kim Jong Un lashed out at officials for allowing the coronavirus to create a “great crisis” that has compromised state security, state media said.
According to Kim, senior officials “neglected the implementation of the important decisions of the party on taking organizational, institutional, material, scientific and technological measures as required by the prolonged state emergency epidemic prevention campaign,” the Korean Central News Agency reported.
This “caused a crucial case of creating a great crisis in ensuring the security of the state and safety of the people and entailed grave consequences.”
North Korea has not officially reported any COVID-19 infections. The state media did not say what prompted Kim to call this meeting, but experts told the Associated Press that North Korea could be dealing with major setbacks due to the coronavirus.
It’s clear that something significant happened and it was big enough to warrant a reprimanding of senior officials,” Hong Min, a senior analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification told the AP. “This could mean mass infections or some sort of situation where a lot of people were put at direct risk of infections.”
The report also said the party recalled an unspecified member of the Politburo’s powerful Presidium, which consists of Kim and four other top officials.
The reference indicated Kim may replace his Cabinet Premier Kim Tok Hun, who would be held responsible for failures in the government’s anti-epidemic work, Hong said.
“There is no possibility that North Korea will ever admit to an infection — even if there were mass transmissions, the North will definitely not reveal such developments and will continue to push forward an anti-virus campaign it has claimed to be the greatest,” Hong said.
Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at South Korea’s private Sejong Institute, expressed a similar view, saying North Korea is potentially dealing with huge virus-related problems in border towns near China, such as Sinuiju or Hyesan. He said the Presidium member Kim Jong Un sacked could possibly be Jo Yong Won, a secretary of the Workers’ Party’s Central Committee who had been seen as a fast-rising figure in the leadership circle.
But other experts said Kim could be responding to illicit border trade that defied his lockdown measures or setting the stage for a political shakeup or purge to solidify his grip on power as he navigates perhaps the toughest time of his nine-year rule.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, said it had no immediate information to share about the North Korean report and that it wouldn’t make prejudgments about the country’s virus situation.
Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry, raised the possibility of helping North Korea in the event of a major outbreak of COVID-19.
“China and the DPRK have a long tradition of helping each other when they encounter difficulties,” Wang said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“If necessary, China will actively consider providing assistance to the DPRK.”
From the start of the pandemic, North Korea described its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” banned tourists, jetted out diplomats and severely curtailed cross-border traffic and trade. The lockdown has further strained an economy already battered by decades of mismanagement and crippling U.S.-led sanctions over the country’s nuclear weapons program.
Kim during a political conference earlier this month called for officials to brace for prolonged COVID-19 restrictions, indicating that the country isn’t ready to open its borders despite its economic woes.
North Korea has told the World Health Organization it has not found a single coronavirus infection after testing more than 30,000 people, including many described as having fevers or respiratory symptoms.
Department of International Relations and European Studies https://www.ibu.edu.ba/department-of-international-relations-and-european-studies/