The North-Korea situation

By Thymen Wijma | April 25, 2020

We are experiencing a pandemic of global proportions that could change the way people have lived and have been accustomed to for the past century. However, there is at least one country that does not seem to suffer from any change since this pandemic. North Korea states that COVID-19 is not present in their country. This attitude follows a long line of lackluster responses of its current and previous leaders to disasters that struck the country. On top of this, the lack of public appearances of its leader has led to suspicions about the health of Kim Jong-Un. What is the current state of the country, how does this impact its citizens, and what is Kim Jong-Un’s current status?

North Korea is known for its secrecy regarding any information that leaves the country. Official reports state that the country has not experienced a single case of COVID. Like most countries, North Korea has been taking measures to ensure the virus from spreading to their country. Starting in January, China was warned to keep citizens from coming into their country. Another measure taken was the extermination of birds by the military to prevent them from spreading the disease to their breeding grounds. As we can see, these measures do not seem too much out of the ordinary from the habits that we know of North Korea. Unlike the country that we know, all military parades, festivities, and exercises have been postponed. This may be due to reports from the American intelligence agency situated in South Korea that state that multiple high ranking officers in the North Korean Military have been isolated for some time due to respiratory issues. It has also been reported by several sources that doctors as well as military personnel have died from a disease that showed symptoms of respiratory pains and fever. This correlated with the symptoms of COVID-19. 

So, if the aforementioned sources can be trusted to be right, what does this mean for the North Korean population? Due to the many imprisonment camps, poor health care, and overall lack of acknowledgment of the disease, it does not look good. We know from other countries as well as our own that the only way to contain COvid is to take drastic measures. In case the North Korean government does not follow this same system, it may be that the overall population could be severely affected by the disease without any proper way of being treated. This seems to be a similar situation to the famine that starved the population in the 90s’. Back then the government chose to prioritize the well-being of the nation-state over the health of its inhabitants. The official policy of the North Korean government has always been the importance of its survival over the survival of the individual. In the case of COVID-19, we could see a similar situation. 

Through all this the lack of public appearances of the Supreme leader of North Korea has been apparent. Kim Jong-Un last appeared in public on the 11th of April. Even though it is not unusual for the leader to be absent from the public eye for a few weeks, this extended period reminds many people of the previous supreme leader’s absence due to health issues. It has also been reported that Un has undergone surgical treatment for cardiovascular problems. This would mean that the health of the 35-year-old leader is questionable at best at this time. This past Friday, China has sent a medical team to Pyongyang to assist in checking up on the health of North-Korea’s leader. Rumors varying from death to grave illness have spread all over the internet but should not be believed until confirmed by official sources, experts say. However, uncertainty is definitely in the air and nobody knows what will happen in the nearby future. With this, we have seen a new political figure rise in North Korea. Kim Yo-Jong is the current leader’s sister. Even though she has been at the side of Kim Jong-Un for an extended period, her political engagement with the public has severely increased over the past two months. Due to the lack of a suitable heir provided by the current leader, she would be next in line to take over the control of the country. 

The current situation in North Korea raises a lot of questions. How does the general public fare under the current treatment of the COVID-19 disease, how does the government handle the situation and where is Kim Jong-Un? Experts are looking to the Korean peninsula with extreme care at the moment due to its precarious state. Changes of power in North Korea go hand in hand with dangerous military reforms as well as a transition period for the public. Due to the lack of verifiable news we are getting from inside the country, we can unfortunately only wait and see how the situation develops.