There’s a Reason Kim Jong Un Loves North Korea’s COVID Pandemic

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Seoul—The spread of COVID-19 in North Korea isn’t all bad news for leader Kim Jong Un. Locking down the entire country, he can assert the power of his regime like never before. He has the power to arrest anyone who is found to be breaking the rules for any reason, whether in search of food, the need to see a friend, or the need to seek medicine.

It can also blame trouble on a network of paramedics. Their survival is now at stake. Some may become ill while in contact with the victims of the disease, but they all have to worry for their lives as Kim investigates how the disease broke out on a massive scale. When it is well known that medical facilities in North Korea are largely devoid of any drugs, much less the capacity for any of them to treat COVID-19, he calls for “correction of emerging diversions in drug supply.”

To show he’s serious, Kim turned to a familiar source of support, where he was the commander-in-chief of his 1.2 million-strong armed forces. Pyongyang’s Korea Central News agency said the People’s Army has issued an order to “immediately stabilize the drug supply in Pyongyang City by involving the powerful forces of the military medical field.”

Military people faced brutal punishment if they did not do something quickly to stop a crisis over which they had no real control.

“If all the leading officials do not make an effort and display their tiresome and warlike spirit,” they “cannot take the strategic initiative in the ongoing anti-epidemic war,” said Kim. “They should not allow the slightest flaw and vulnerable spots by maintaining high tension and vigilance in the acute anti-epidemic war.”

The call to line up the armed forces behind the campaign showed Kim’s disappointment in a fight for which they had no expertise and no mandate other than to carry out a purge on his behalf. KCNA published the post in English as well as Korean, noting the need for Kim to prove fully responsible in front of an international audience.

Kim Jong Un inspects a pharmacy in Pyongyang in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2022.

via Reuters

It’s a simple blame game, and Kim, who is known for ordering the execution of anyone he suspects is working against him or his interests, will not hesitate to imprison or kill those accused of failing to eradicate the disease. He doesn’t say a word about the vaccines he’s been rejecting from potential foreign aid providers during the pandemic, and he doesn’t accept the aid offered by South Korea’s newly elected President Yoon Suk-yeol.

Never mind that conservative Yoon didn’t tie medical aid to the North’s demand for “complete denuclearization.” Kim has also turned down offers of vaccinations from Yoon’s liberal predecessor Moon Jae-in, who pleaded for dialogue and reconciliation long before he acknowledged the pandemic in his home country.

“Kim cannot admit any blame because he is an infallible party of a ‘god’, the Kim family regime,” said David Maxwell of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “His deliberate policy decisions made the tragedy worse than it should have been. He prioritized the development of nuclear and missile programs for the welfare of the Korean people living in the north.”

By taking the blame, who is avoiding all responsibility for not taking the basic steps needed to stop the spread of the disease. While low-ranking bureaucrats are guilty of treason for failing to prevent a disease that he claims has not arisen anywhere within the confines of his regime, he holds himself and his innermost circle above condemnation.

Of course, this claim was never convincing. It has always been impossible to imagine that Kim actually managed to prevent him from entering North Korea by closing the border with China shortly after the virus was reported in Wuhan in December 2019. Either he was in denial, refusing to believe what was going on around him, or he was running a deliberate fabrication and disinformation campaign.

It is also impossible to believe the seemingly factual news published by his propaganda machine, especially the party newspaper. Rodong Sinmun and the KCNA, which claims to represent the number of deaths from the disease, the numbers contracted, and the numbers recovered.

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On March 18, 2022, at the Pyongyang Children’s Store in Pyongyang, employees spray disinfectant and wipe surfaces as part of preventive measures against the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Kim Won Jin/AFP via Getty Images

There is no way to confirm these figures, but we can assume that it is much higher than the 1.2 million suffering from the “fever” and 50 deaths reported by the North Korean media. NK News, a website in Seoul, said the “fever” was “a possible euphemism for the virus, reflecting the possibility that North Korea may not be able to clinically diagnose all positive COVID-19 infections due to limited testing capacity.”

What is certain is that North Korea is in the midst of a serious emergency that provides a terrific opportunity for Kim to pressure his own people more fiercely than ever before. But the emergency exposes him to enormous risks. It may need to be unable to suppress widespread dissatisfaction with its power and contend with open opposition. He may find that his grip is weakened or compromised.

Kim always worries deeply about seizing power.

While noting that “government-provided drugs are not properly delivered to citizens on time through pharmacies,” KCNA said, “Ministry and public health sector officials responsible for procurement have not rolled up their sleeves, not fully recognizing the current crisis, but simply talking about the spirit of selflessly serving the public.”

In fact, Kim denounced the director of the Central Prosecutor’s Office for playing any role and feeling no responsibility or remorse for the laziness and negligence of his duties.

Such talk obscures the simple fact that pharmacy shelves are nearly empty, there is no simple cure for COVID anywhere in the world, and hospitals in the North have no facilities needed for extreme situations.

The reason for this propaganda attack is that Kim himself is responsible for diverting enormous funds to a nuclear and missile program that demonstrates its power, while the healthcare system is known to be woefully inadequate.

Probably a small elite in Pyongyang has access to all the medical care they need, but the vast majority of North Korea’s population of 26 million do not have access to care. Reports by North Korean media give an optimistic and completely false image of Kim’s concern for his people.

Now, although Kim hates the idea of ​​accepting foreign aid in the form of vaccines and medical equipment needed to fight the disease, she’s at risk. Although he doesn’t say a word about vaccines, he may have to accept vaccines in bulk. If this happens, foreign donors will insist on knowing who received the vaccines, where and how they were given.

“He is afraid of the epidemic and has taken measures over the past two years to try to prevent or contain it,” said Maxwell, a retired army colonel who served five tours with special forces in South Korea. “He has implemented more brutal population and resource control measures in the name of COVID to put more pressure on the Korean people.”

But under these circumstances, Kim may have no choice but to let in foreign experts who, after going home, will tell the world how much North Korea has suffered under his rule.

For now, Kim is doing everything possible to prevent the emergence of what is going on and the full extent of the disease. Kim has ruthlessly deprived his people of medicine, food and much needed for survival, while squandering enormous sums on nuclear warheads and missiles to deliver them to distant targets.

“Kim has always been deeply concerned about seizing power because the real threat to him comes from his own people, not from the United States, as he claims,” ​​said David Straub, a retired senior US diplomat in Seoul. “He liquidated the leadership under him, killed his uncle and half-brother, and used COVID as an excuse to shut the entire country off from the rest of the world for more than two years. COVID is only adding to the internal threat posed to him.”

By controlling “the flow of information,” Kim said, “the international may or may not accept vaccines, while blaming others inside and outside of North Korea for anything that goes wrong in the country.”

He is currently fighting for his own life as the leader of North Korea. He knows that if he cannot stop the disease, he and his regime will not survive.