While the world is shaken by the crisis caused by the new coronavirus, North Korea has continued to act on its own, threatening regional stability. The international community must keep up pressure on that nation through continual surveillance.
Conflicting information on the movements of Kim Jong Un, the chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, was reported at one point. Citing a U.S. official, CNN reported last month that Kim was in grave condition after undergoing surgery, which raised questions about his safety.
North Korea’s state-run television on May 2 broadcast a video of Kim attending a ceremony to mark the completion of a fertilizer plant the previous day, denying rumors that he might be seriously ill. It was the first time in 20 days that his public appearance was reported.
It is difficult to confirm the whereabouts of the country’s supreme leader, and it is also impossible to communicate through official diplomatic channels. Given North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, the magnitude of the risks it poses must be recognized.
North Korea’s response to the new coronavirus lacks transparency. Pyongyang claims that it has taken “extremely special quarantine measures” such as closing the border with China and putting many residents under medical surveillance. Although it repeatedly says that there are no cases of infection, the reality of the situation remains unknown.
U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly sent a letter to Kim, offering cooperation on efforts against the virus. However, Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, the first deputy director of the party, only expressed dissatisfaction with U.S. policy toward North Korea in a statement.
Pyongyang aims to get Washington to lift economic sanctions against it in exchange for partial denuclearization measures, but with its nuclear program kept intact. There is a wide gap with the United States, which has called for complete denuclearization.
Kim is probably waiting for an opportunity in which Trump will compromise, with an eye on the presidential election in November.
North Korea’s repeated missile launches to build up its military in the midst of the coronavirus crisis cannot be overlooked. Based on satellite images, a U.S. research institute pointed out the possibility that North Korea is constructing new facilities for ballistic missiles.
A panel of experts at the U.N. Security Council’s Sanctions Committee released a report last month that once again revealed North Korea’s violation of sanctions, including the smuggling of refined oil products and coal. It has also been sending workers abroad to earn foreign currency.
If the border closure with China is put in place for a long time and its trade decreases drastically, North Korea will try to survive by violating sanctions in this way.
The United States, China and Japan should not shelve the North Korean nuclear issue. By strictly executing sanctions, it is necessary to make North Korea realize that denuclearization is the only way to reconstruct its economy.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 10, 2020.