Informal Institute for National Security Thinkers and Practitioners

Quotes of the Day:

"A politician thinks of the next election – a statesman of the next generation"
_ James Freeman Clarke

"I don't believe you have to be better than everybody else. I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be.
- Ken Venturi

 “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.” 
- George Jean Nathan

1. N. Korea reports 6 deaths after admitting COVID-19 outbreak
2. Analysis: COVID crisis could deepen N.Korea food shortages amid drought warnings
3. North Korea fires 3 ballistic missiles amid first virus outbreak
4. Yoon offers to send COVID-19 vaccines to N. Korea
5. N. Korea appears ready for nuclear test: presidential official
6. Top S. Korean, U.S. diplomats agree to continue consultations on N.K. humanitarian aid
7. U.S. supports efforts to contain COVID-19, vaccinate people in N. Korea: State Dept.
8. Explainer: How North Korea's COVID-19 outbreak could ignite a major health crisis
9. Allies' North Korea policy at crossroads amid COVID spread in Pyongyang
10. Biden considering Korea DMZ visit when traveling to Asia this month
11. Why Did N.Korea Finally Admit COVID Outbreak?
12. Reps. Steel, Kim Push Administration to Reaffirm Commitment to U.S./South Korean Alliance - OKN
13. North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: A New Practice Creates a New Analytical Challenge
14. North Korea in a sudden shock Covid crisis

1. N. Korea reports 6 deaths after admitting COVID-19 outbreak
We are going to see a lot of reporting on this. We will hear speculation on why now. But I think we need to really examine the implications of this and watch for the indicators.

I would like to know how hard this has hit the military. What is happening inside military units along the front line as well as the "elite" military corps and other organizations. 

While everyone is going to focus on offering aid and vaccinations, my concern of course is that this could lead to severe regime instability, particularly if there is a breakdown of the three chains of control in the military (traditional, political, and security).

This is potentially a very dangerous time. Increased instability can lead to an increased chance of conflict. We need to maintain the highest level of readiness for defense but we also need to conduct contingency planning while keeping in mind every contingency (from refugees and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief - to internal competition for resources among military units, to civil war and anarchy or the complete breakdown of party control and military coherency) can lead to conflict.

This could potentially be one of the most complex times we have faced in terms of security on the Korean peninsula since the Korean War. We need to be ready.

And yes I will accept the criticism as the boy who cried wolf or the chicken little and the sky is falling. But I subscribe to Eliot Cohen and John Gooch's study in Military Misfortune - all military failures are the result of three things: failure to learn, failure to adapt, and failure to anticipate. We have a chance to anticipate here. We must not blow it.

Here were our assessments from the 1990s.


N. Korea reports 6 deaths after admitting COVID-19 outbreak
AP · by KIM TONG-HYUNG and HYUNG-JIN KIM · May 12, 2022
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Six people have died and 350,000 have been treated for a fever that has spread “explosively” across North Korea, state media said Friday, a day after the country acknowledged a COVID-19 outbreak for the first time in the pandemic.
North Korea likely doesn’t have sufficient COVID-19 tests and said it didn’t know the cause of the mass fevers. But a big coronavirus outbreak could be devastating in a country with a broken health care system and an unvaccinated, malnourished population.
The North’s Korean Central News Agency said of the 350,000 people who developed fevers since late April, 162,200 have recovered. It said 18,000 people were newly found with fever symptoms on Thursday alone, and 187,800 are being isolated for treatment.
One of the six people who died was infected with the omicron variant, KCNA said. But it wasn’t immediately clear how many of the total illnesses were COVID-19.
North Korea imposed a lockdown Thursday after acknowledging its first COVID-19 cases. Those reports said tests from an unspecified number of people came back positive for the omicron variant.
It’s unusual for isolated North Korea to admit to the outbreak of any infectious disease, let alone one as menacing as COVID-19, as it’s intensely proud and sensitive to outside perception about its self-described “socialist utopia.”
While North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had occasionally been candid about his worsening economy and other problems, he had repeatedly expressed confidence about pandemic response and wasn’t seen wearing a mask in public until Thursday.
State TV showed Kim wearing a mask as he entered what the broadcast described as the country’s headquarters of its pandemic response, which appeared to be Pyongyang’s landmark Koryo Hotel. He took off the mask and smoked a cigarette while talking with officials.
KCNA said Kim criticized officials for failing to prevent “a vulnerable point in the epidemic prevention system.” He said the outbreak was centered around the capital, Pyongyang, and stressed all work and residential units should be isolated from one another while residents should be provided every convenience during the lockdown.

“It is the most important challenge and supreme tasks facing our party to reverse the immediate public health crisis situation at an early date, restore the stability of epidemic prevention and protect the health and wellbeing of our people,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.
The spread of the virus may have been accelerated by a massive military parade on April 25, where Kim gave a speech and showcased his army and weaponry in front of tens of thousands of people.
Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute, said the pace of the fever’s spread suggests the crisis could last months and possibly into 2023, causing major disruption in the poorly equipped country.
According to the latest figures from the World Health Organization, North Korea reported to the U.N. agency that it tested 64,207 people for COVID-19 in 2020 through March 22 this year, a small number that may indicate insufficient tests for a population of 26 million.
North Korea also lacks vaccines, COVID-19 antiviral pills and has likely very few intensive care units to treat serious cases, which may cause higher death rates than other nations, experts say.
The North last year shunned millions of shots offered by the U.N.-backed COVAX distribution program, including doses of AstraZeneca and China’s Sinovac vaccines, possibly because of questions about their effectiveness and unwillingness to accept monitoring requirements. The country lacks the extreme-cold storage systems that are required for mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna, which have shown higher rates of preventing infection, serious illness and death even against newer variants like omicron.
The office of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office Tuesday, said his government is willing to provide medical supplies and hopes to talk to the North about specific plans. It said the North hasn’t yet asked for its help.
Cha Deok-cheol, a spokesperson in South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said Seoul doesn’t immediately have an estimate on the number of vaccine doses it could offer to North Korea.
Inter-Korean relations have deteriorated over the past three years as larger nuclear negotiations remain stalled since they broke down over disagreements about U.S.-led sanctions and the North’s disarmament steps.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Beijing was ready to offer North Korea help but said he had no information about any such request being made. Asked whether China would be evacuating its nationals from North Korea, Zhao said Beijing will closely monitor the situation and maintain communication with the North to ensure the health and safety of Chinese citizens there.
North Korea’s claim of a perfect record in keeping out the virus for 2 1/2 years was widely doubted. But its extremely strict border closure, large-scale quarantines and propaganda that stressed anti-virus controls as a matter of “national existence” may have staved off a huge outbreak until now.
Hours after confirming the outbreak, North Korea launched three short-range ballistic missiles toward the sea in an apparent display of strength. It was the North’s 16th round of missile launches this year as it aims to pressure the United States to accept the idea of the country as a nuclear power. It’s also eager to negotiate sanctions relief and other concessions from a position of strength.
There are also indications that North Korea is restoring tunnels at a nuclear testing ground that was last active in 2017 in possible preparations to resume nuclear tests, which U.S. and South Korean officials say could happen as early as this month.
Citing North Korea’s shunning of the COVAX vaccines, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the United States supported international aid efforts but doesn’t plan to share its vaccine supplies with the North.
“We do continue to support international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable North Koreans, and this is, of course, a broader part of the DPRK continuing to exploit its own citizens by not accepting this type of aid,” Psaki said Thursday in Washington, using the initials of North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“It’s not just vaccines. It’s also a range of humanitarian assistance that could very much help the people and the country and instead they divert resources to build their unlawful nuclear and ballistic missiles programs.”
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.
___ This story corrects the name of a South Korean government spokesperson.
AP · by KIM TONG-HYUNG and HYUNG-JIN KIM · May 12, 2022

2. Analysis: COVID crisis could deepen N.Korea food shortages amid drought warnings

More indicators potential impact on regime stability.

Analysis: COVID crisis could deepen N.Korea food shortages amid drought warnings
Reuters · by Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL, May 12 (Reuters) - North Korea's coronavirus outbreak threatens to deepen its already dire food situation this year, as a nationwide lockdown would hamper ongoing anti-drought efforts and the mobilisation of labour, analysts said.
The isolated North confirmed on Thursday its first COVID-19 outbreak since the pandemic emerged more than two years ago, declaring the "gravest national emergency" and imposing a national lockdown. read more
The outbreak came as the country steps up an "all-out fight" against drought, with leader Kim Jong Un warning of a tense food situation due to the pandemic and last year's typhoons.
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State media said last week that factory labourers and even office workers and government officials had been dispatched to help improve farming facilities and secure water resources across the country. read more
Droughts and flooding have long posed seasonal threats to North Korea, and any major natural hazards could further cripple its reclusive economy.
The pandemic had already slashed trade and international food donations, and in a country heavily reliant on human labour in agriculture and lacking industrial and medical infrastructure, a brewing COVID-19 crisis could further exacerbate food shortages, analysts said.
"In North Korea, economic activity requires a lot of people's movements, and you can't expect trade or large aid from China," said Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in South Korea.
"But now farming activity could be scaled back and distribution of fertilisers, raw materials and equipment would become difficult," he added.
U.N. aid agencies and most other relief groups have pulled out of the country amid extended border shutdowns and say it is difficult to gauge exactly how bad the situation is there.
But Ji Seong-ho, a South Korean lawmaker who defected from the North in 2006 and has campaigned for North Koreans' human rights, said the virus could spread rapidly due partly to the lack of a working medical system.
"The COVID outbreak could hit the ongoing farming season hard, and food security might become really serious this year and next," he told a parliamentary session.
International sanctions over the North's weapons programmes restrict broad swaths of its trade, and the country sealed its border in early 2020 to prevent the virus.
A reopening of border trade early this year raised a glimmer of hope, only to be halted in April because of COVID outbreaks in China, which has recently imposed extremely tight restrictions in major cities like Shanghai. Satellite imagery shows goods sitting for weeks or months in quarantine at land and sea port facilities. read more
Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Sejong Institute's North Korea studies centre in South Korea, said the North could impose limited measures - unlike China's sweeping moves - to ensure some activity continues, referring to Kim's order to keep the lockdowns to the city and county levels.
"But over time, the lack of interregional movement would hurt supply and production, and North Korea might eventually face a serious food crisis and the kind of great confusion that's been seen in China recently," Cheong said.
North Korea's weather agency has warned of prolonged dry spells this month, and state media again on Thursday reported an "all-out fight against drought" nationwide.
In March, the United Nations urged Pyongyang to reopen its borders to aid workers and food imports, saying its deepening isolation may have left many facing starvation.
The World Food Program estimated that even before the pandemic emerged, 11 million people, or more than 40% of the North's population, were undernourished and needed assistance.
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Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Soo-hyang Choi; Editing by Hugh Lawson
Reuters · by Hyonhee Shin

3. North Korea fires 3 ballistic missiles amid first virus outbreak

Sigh.... learn, adapt, and ANTICIPATE. Complex and complicated times are ahead.

North Korea fires 3 ballistic missiles amid first virus outbreak · by Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press · May 12, 2022
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles toward the sea on Thursday, its neighbors said, in the latest of a series of weapons demonstrations this year that came just hours after it confirmed its first case of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.
The launches could underscore North Korea’s determination to press ahead with its efforts to expand its arsenal despite the virus outbreak to rally support behind the leader, Kim Jong Un, and keep up pressure on its rivals amid long-dormant nuclear diplomacy.

North Korea has claimed the March 4 and Feb. 26 launches were merely to test cameras to be installed on a future spy satellite.
Thursday’s launches were the North’s first weapons fired since the inauguration of new conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday.
North Korea has a history of rattling new governments in Seoul and Washington in an apparent bid to boost its bargaining chips in future negotiations. The North Korean nuclear threat will likely top the agenda when Yoon meets visiting U.S. President Joe Biden in Seoul next week.
Both South Korea and Japan condemned the launches from the North’s capital region on Thursday afternoon.
The missiles plunged into the waters between North Korea’s eastern coast and outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said. There was no report of damage to aircraft or vessels.
South Korea’s military said it boosted its readiness and surveillance while maintaining close coordination with the United States. It called on the North to immediately halt its repeated missile firings.
South Korea and Japan released similar flight details, saying the weapons traveled about 350-360 kilometers (217-224 miles) at a maximum altitude of 90-100 kilometers (56-62 miles).

People watch a TV screen showing a news program reporting about North Korea's missile launch with file footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Lee Jin-man/AP)
Earlier Thursday, North Korean state media confirmed the country’s first COVID-19 infections as Kim ordered nationwide lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus. Kim also ordered officials to bolster the country’s defense posture to avoid any security vacuum.
In recent months, North Korea has test-launched a spate of missiles in what experts call an attempt to modernize its weapons and pressure the United States and its allies into accepting it as a nuclear state and relax sanctions on the North. Some observers say that despite the elevated anti-virus steps, North Korea would likely continue to build its arsenal with weapons tests to boost public morale and strengthen loyalty for the Kim leadership.
“North Korea’s latest missile firings appear excessive to what would be needed to test and improve military capabilities,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said. “These launches look like a show of strength after the Kim regime publicly admitted to a coronavirus outbreak.”
A statement issued after a meeting chaired by Yoon’s national security adviser Kim Sung-han said South Korea would seek “practical” and “stern” measures in cooperation with the international community to respond to the growing North Korean threat.
The North Korean weapons tested recently included a variety of nuclear-capable missiles that could potentially reach South Korea, Japan or the mainland U.S. In March, North Korea ended its self-imposed suspension on huge weapons tests since 2018 with a launch of its biggest missile capable of reaching the entirety of the American homeland.
The U.N. Security Council has typically imposed punishing sanctions on North Korea after it carried out nuclear and long-range missile tests. But that didn’t happen in March because veto-wielding members are divided over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Last Saturday, South Korea detected a North Korea ballistic missile launch likely from a submarine, the first such test since last October. There are also signs that the North is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test in nearly five years at a remote testing ground in its northeast.
Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.

4. Yoon offers to send COVID-19 vaccines to N. Korea

The right thing to do. But will Kim accept the offer?

(3rd LD) Yoon offers to send COVID-19 vaccines to N. Korea | Yonhap News Agency · by 이해아 · May 13, 2022
(ATTN: UPDATES with Yoon's comments in paras 6-8; ADDS photo)
By Lee Haye-ah
SEOUL, May 13 (Yonhap) -- President Yoon Suk-yeol on Friday offered to send COVID-19 vaccines to North Korea, his spokesperson said, a day after Pyongyang acknowleged an outbreak for the first time since the pandemic began.
After claiming for over two years that it was coronavirus-free, the North reported its first case of COVID-19 on Thursday, saying the country declared the implementation of the "maximum emergency" virus control system.
"President Yoon Suk-yeol plans to provide the North Korean people with COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies," presidential spokesperson Kang In-sun said in a statement. "Suspected cases are said to be rising explosively in North Korea recently due to a massive COVID-19 outbreak. We will hold discussions with the North Korean side about details."
North Korea issued a second report on the outbreak Friday, claiming that six people died after a fever spread "explosively," affecting 350,000 people since last month.
One of the people who died was confirmed to have been infected with the omicron variant, according to the Korean Central News Agency.
Yoon later said South Korea will propose talks with the North about his offer.
"Of course. Basically, through the unification ministry channel," he told reporters during his first visit to the press room of the new presidential office when asked if he plans to propose working-level talks with the North about the vaccines.
The unification ministry is responsible for inter-Korean relations.

A presidential official told reporters the North's situation is worse than reported.
"We know more than what was announced," the official said on condition of anonymity. "It's more serious than thought."
The North has not reached out to the South yet, but Seoul will remain ready to respond should it ask for assistance under the principle of separating humanitarian aid from military and security issues, the official said.
The official did not elaborate but was apparently referring to international sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs that preclude most economic exchanges with the country.
The decision to offer aid was not discussed in advance with the United States, the official said.
Earlier, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday that the U.S. does not have immediate plans to share vaccines with North Korea.
North Korea's acknowledgement of the outbreak came as the regime has continued to test missiles and shown signs of preparing for a nuclear test as early as this month.
On Thursday, Pyongyang fired three short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea in its first show of force since Yoon's inauguration Tuesday, drawing condemnation from Seoul and Washington.
Notably, the presidential National Security Office said the government "deplored North Korea's two-faced actions" in continuing to carry out ballistic missile provocations while neglecting its people's lives and safety amid the spread of the virus.
Yoon was elected after signaling a hard-line stance on North Korea's nuclear program with suggestions of the need to carry out a preemptive strike in the event of an imminent threat against the South.
But he struck a softer tone in his inauguration speech Tuesday, saying the door to dialogue would remain open and that South Korea was prepared to work with the international community to present an "audacious plan" to revive the North's economy if it took steps to denuclearize.
Yoon also told the Voice of America in a recent interview that he is open to meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un but only if it will lead to "tangible results" for denuclearization and an improvement in cross-border ties.
Meanwhile, the KCNA reported that Kim visited the state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters Thursday and "criticized" that a "vulnerable point in the epidemic prevention system" had been exposed.
(END) · by 이해아 · May 13, 2022

5. N. Korea appears ready for nuclear test: presidential official

COVID, missiles, and nuke tests. Conflict or collapse?

Or all of the above.

(LEAD) N. Korea appears ready for nuclear test: presidential official | Yonhap News Agency · by 김덕현 · May 13, 2022
(ATTN: ADDS remarks, details from para 4)
SEOUL, May 13 (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to be ready for its seventh nuclear test, an official at South Korea's presidential office said Friday.
Before a nuclear test, the North could test-launch ballistic missiles, the official said.
The government plans to draw up "very detailed action plans" about North Korea, and other regional and global issues ahead of an upcoming summit between President Yoon Suk-yeol and U.S. President Joe Biden, the official said.
The official said a nuclear test would have a short-term impact on the South's economy, but many experts believe Russia's invasion of Ukraine and global economic fundamentals would likely be "bigger structural variables."
On Thursday, North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea, in its first major provocation since Yoon took office Tuesday.
The launch, the North's 16th show of force this year, came amid lingering concerns Pyongyang could carry out a nuclear test, as Yoon and Biden are scheduled to hold the summit in Seoul on May 21.

(END) · by 김덕현 · May 13, 2022

6. Top S. Korean, U.S. diplomats agree to continue consultations on N.K. humanitarian aid

Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief was one of the contingencies we planned for in the 1990s during our collapse planning. But what we assessed at the time is that you cannot focus solely on humanitarian assistance because there are likely to be complex xsecurity problems that accompany it.

Consultations are necessary and important. Have we established a combined crisis action planning team to look at the contingencies and provide options to ROK and US leaders? Who is looking at the totality of the potential crisis and problems?

(LEAD) Top S. Korean, U.S. diplomats agree to continue consultations on N.K. humanitarian aid | Yonhap News Agency · by 송상호 · May 13, 2022
(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 7-11)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, May 13 (Yonhap) -- The top diplomats of South Korea and the United States expressed concerns over recent COVID-19 outbreaks in North Korea and agreed to continue consultations on humanitarian aid to the reclusive country during video talks Friday, Seoul's foreign ministry said.
In their first talks since Foreign Minister Park Jin took office the previous day, Park and Secretary of State Antony Blinken also condemned the North's recent missile launches and agreed to strengthen bilateral coordination to "sternly" deal with North Korean threats, according to the ministry.
"The South and the U.S. agreed to continue consultations, together with the international community, over ways of providing humanitarian aid to the North," the ministry said in a press release.
Despite their condemnation of the North's missile launches, the two sides highlighted their countries' openness to dialogue with the North and agreed to make efforts for the resumption of "principled and consistent" denuclearization negotiations with the North, according to the ministry.
Earlier in the day, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported that six people have died from COVID-19 and symptoms of fever were newly reported among more than 18,000 people nationwide Thursday.
Despite speculation that the North might slow down its weapons tests to focus on antivirus efforts, the regime launched three short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea on Thursday evening, its 16th show of force this year.
Park and Blinken also discussed preparations for the upcoming summit between new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and his U.S. counterpart, Joe Biden. Biden is set to arrive here next Friday for the summit, before visiting Japan on his first Asia trip since his inauguration early last year.
Park called on Blinken to work together for a successful summit, expressing hope it would help further elevate the two countries' "comprehensive strategic" alliance.
Blinken pointed out that Biden's planned visit -- the earliest one by a U.S. president following the inauguration of a South Korean president -- underscores the importance that Washington places on the South and the overall Indo-Pacific region, according to the ministry.
The two sides also shared the view on the growing importance of cooperation in areas of "economic security," including supply chain resiliency, and agreed to reinforce their "strategic" communication.
Blinken invited Park to visit the U.S. at the "earliest possible date" to discuss issues of mutual interest, the ministry said.
(END) · by 송상호 · May 13, 2022

7. U.S. supports efforts to contain COVID-19, vaccinate people in N. Korea: State Dept.

Unfortunately Kim is unlikely to allow this because he will deem it a threat to the regime, but this could be an opportunity for large scale engagement and people to people contact in the north. I would like to see large numbers of international personnel ROk and US included) deployed to north Korea to assist with the COVID outbreak. But that is a bridge too far. The Korean people in the north will be lucky if Kim agrees simply to accept vaccinations. They are not likely to get more help from the outside world than simply providing medicine and equipment.

U.S. supports efforts to contain COVID-19, vaccinate people in N. Korea: State Dept. | Yonhap News Agency · by 변덕근 · May 13, 2022
By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, May 12 (Yonhap) -- The United States strongly supports providing COVID-19 vaccines to North Korea, a State Department spokesperson said Thursday, urging the impoverished country to work with the international community to vaccinate its people.
The remarks come shortly after North Korea said some 18,000 people with fever were identified on Thursday (Seoul time) alone. It also said six people died on the day, with one of them testing positive for the omicron variant of the new coronavirus.
"We note the media reports regarding the outbreak of COVID-19 in the DPRK," the department spokesperson told Yonhap News Agency in an email, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"We are concerned about how this might affect the North Korean people and continue to support the provision of vaccines to the DPRK," the department official added.
North Korea issued its first-ever report of a COVID-19 case on Wednesday. The country on Thursday said more than 350,000 people have been identified with a fever in a short span of time since late April.
Before the North reported such a high number of possible COVID-19 cases, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. had no immediate plans to provide COVID-19 vaccines to North Korea from its own supplies but that it would support the provision of vaccines by international organizations, such as COVAX.
The State Department spokesperson said the U.S. "strongly supports and encourages the efforts of U.S. and international aid and health organizations in seeking to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19 in the DPRK and to provide other forms of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable groups in the country."
The spokesperson urged Pyongyang to work with such organizations to quickly vaccinate its population.
"COVAX determines allocations for the Pfizer billion, which is the vast majority of our donations. Should COVAX allocate doses to the DPRK, we would be supportive as we would to any member of the AMC 92 and African Union," the spokesperson said.
The U.S. has pledged to donate more than 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by 2023.
"To date, the DPRK has refused all vaccine donations from COVAX. While the U.S. does not currently have plans to share vaccines with the DPRK, we continue to support international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable North Koreans," the spokesperson added.
(END) · by 변덕근 · May 13, 2022

8. Explainer: How North Korea's COVID-19 outbreak could ignite a major health crisis

Just terrible conditions in north Korea for the Korean people. This will not end well.

Explainer: How North Korea's COVID-19 outbreak could ignite a major health crisis
Reuters · by Soo-Hyang Choi
SEOUL, May 13 (Reuters) - North Korea's admission that it is battling an "explosive" COVID-19 outbreak has raised concerns that the virus could devastate a country with an under-resourced health system, limited testing capabilities, and no vaccine programme.
The isolated North confirmed on Thursday its first COVID-19 infections since the pandemic emerged more than two years ago, shifting to the "maximum emergency epidemic prevention system" and imposing a national lockdown. On Friday it reported its first COVID-related death. read more
State media have not confirmed the total number of COVID-19 cases so far, but said that more than 350,000 people have shown fever symptoms since late April.

Along with Eritrea, North Korea is one of only two countries that have not started a vaccination campaign against COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The COVAX global COVID-19 vaccine-sharing programme cut the number of doses allocated for North Korea as the country has so far failed to arrange for any shipments, reportedly over international monitoring requirements.
Pyongyang also declined offers of vaccines from China.
The latest reported assessment of whether leader Kim Jong Un was vaccinated was from July 2021, when South Korea's spy agency said there were no signs he had received a shot.
North Korea said last year it had developed its own polymerase chain reaction (PCR) equipment to conduct coronavirus tests, and Russia has said it had delivered small numbers of test kits.
But North Korea is heavily sanctioned over its nuclear weapons programme, and since 2020 has maintained strict border lockdowns that have blocked many supplies.
Experts said that so far the pace of testing suggests North Korea cannot handle the number of symptomatic cases it has reported.
As of the end of March, only 64,207 of North Korea's 25 million people had been tested for COVID, and all the results were negative, the latest WHO data shows.
"North Korea has been testing around 1,400 people each week. Assuming they were at their peak capacity, then they can perform 400 tests per day max - not nearly enough to test 350,000 people with symptoms," said Harvard Medical School’s Kee Park, who has worked on health care projects in North Korea.
It's unclear whether North Korea has imposed any mask mandates since the pandemic began. Citizens were at times seen wearing masks, but also going mask-free at some major political events that mobilized tens of thousands of people.
Kim was shown for the first time wearing a mask at the COVID response meeting on Thursday.
North Korea ranks last in the world for its ability to rapidly respond to and mitigate the spread of an epidemic, according to the latest Global Health Security Index in December.
Although it has a high number of trained doctors and the ability to rapidly deploy and organise staff in the face of emergencies, North Korea's health care system is chronically under-resourced.
Every North Korean village has one or two clinics or hospitals, and most county hospitals are equipped with X-ray facilities, "though not necessarily functional ones," the WHO said in its 2014-2019 Country Cooperation Strategy report.
Kwon Young-se, South Korea's new nominee to be the unification minister, responsible for inter-Korean ties, said at his confirmation hearing on Thursday the North is believed to lack even the most basic medical supplies such as painkillers and disinfectants.
An independent U.N. human rights investigator reported in March that the North's COVID-19 restrictions, including the border closings, could have prevented massive outbreaks "though likely at considerable cost to the wider health situation."
"Chronic issues plague the country’s healthcare system, including under-investment in infrastructure, medical personnel, equipment and medicine, irregular power supplies and inadequate water and sanitation facilities," the report said.
The outbreak could pose a political challenge for the North's authoritarian leader, North Koreans who had defected to the South said.
"Kim ordered the mobilization of reserve medical supplies, which means in North Korea they will now use war reserves and that general hospitals have ran out of medicines," said Thae Young-ho, a former North Korean diplomat who defected to the South in 2016 and is now a lawmaker.
Ji Seong-ho, another South Korean lawmaker who left the North in 2006, said the virus could spread rapidly, due partly to the lack of a working medical system.
"An enormous number of people died during the (1990s) famine after typhoid broke out. It was a nightmare for the North Korean regime, and for the North Korean people," Ji told a parliamentary session.

Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin. Editing by Gerry Doyle
Reuters · by Soo-Hyang Choi

9. Allies' North Korea policy at crossroads amid COVID spread in Pyongyang

An important article. This might cause the summit agenda to be altered at this late date.

If I did not know better I would think Kim has deliberately times the unveiling of the COVID outbreak to do just what this article says is happening - to upend ROK/US alliance policy toward north Korea.

Think about this. We are going to be so focused on COVID in the north we are going to forget about the missile tests and a potential nuclear test. We are going to want to help the Korean people in the north more than Kim does and he will play that hand to his advantage. He can potentially get more aid through exploiting the suffering of the Korean people in the north than through blackmail diplomacy. Perhaps this is a realization that blackmail diplomacy will not longer be able to achieve the effects it has been able to in the past. Now he may try to use our sense of humanity to extract concessions from us.

The bottomline is we must continue to try to recognize and understand his political warfare strategy and then expose it and attack it.

Allies' North Korea policy at crossroads amid COVID spread in Pyongyang
The Korea Times · by 2022-05-13 15:16 | North Korea · May 13, 2022
In this March 18 file photo, employees spray disinfectant as part of preventative measures against COVID-19 at the Pyongyang Children's Department Store in Pyongyang. AFP-Yonhap

President Yoon offers to provide Pyongyang with COVID-19 vaccines
By Nam Hyun-woo

South Korea and the United States face a watershed moment in their policies toward North Korea, as the reclusive regime has made it public that it is experiencing an "explosive" outbreak of COVID-19.

According to the North's Korean Central News Agency, Friday, the country has reported six deaths from the pandemic, with one of them testing positive for the Omicron variant. It added that symptoms of fever were newly reported among more than 18,000 people on the day alone.

"A fever whose cause couldn't be identified explosively spread nationwide from late April and more than 350,000 people got fever in a short span of time," the agency reported. "And at least 162,200 out of them were healed completely."

The report came just a day after the regime for the first time acknowledged the coronavirus outbreak, and its leader Kim Jong-un declared a shift to an emergency antivirus system. Until then, the North had been flatly denying any COVID-19 cases in the country.

Pyongyang did not seek assistance from the outside world, as the number of deaths in the country remains at a relatively low level, but experts say leader Kim may consider requesting coronavirus aid packages, if the pandemic spreads explosively in North Korea.

"So far, the North has reported one Omicron-related death, it is expected that the North will not accept aid from the outside world, especially the Western world, for a while," said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute.

"However, if the number of Omicron deaths soar, the North will have no option but to request China's assistance first, and then they may consider the Western world's aid if the situation gets out of control for the regime."

If the North begins receiving vaccines, treatments and other supplies required for containing the pandemic, many experts said it will be a chance for Seoul and Washington to restart talks with Pyongyang and alleviate the current tensions that the regime is creating with its missile and nuclear threats.

During a National Assembly confirmation hearing on Thursday, Seoul's unification minister nominee Kwon Young-se said, "Exploiting North Korea's difficult situation can be problematic in the sense of morality, but we have the intention to actively help Pyongyang to solve its difficulties."

Cheong also said, "Potential inter-Korean quarantine cooperation can help the two sides to lower military tensions and resume talks," adding South Korea may be able to provide a coronavirus-relief package to North Korea through China or other international organizations if it remains reluctant to receive help.

Also on Friday, President Yoon Suk-yeol offered to provide North Korea with COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies, spokesperson Kang In-sun said in a statement, adding that the government will discuss details with the North's counterparts.

Later in the day, Yoon said the government will propose talks with the North about his offer through the unification ministry channel.

In this Oct. 10, 2020, file photo carried by Rodong Shinmun, North Korea's KN-25 missile launchers are displayed in a military parade. The North claims they are large multiple launch artillery rocket systems. Yonhap

However, North Korea's unwavering pursuit of heightening tensions and its hawkish response to South Korea and the U.S. authorities could dash this optimism.

According to Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), North Korea fired three ballistic missiles on Thursday, marking the first round of missile launches since Yoon took office two days before.

The JCS said the missiles flew approximately 360 kilometers though the U.S. military assessed that they did not pose an immediate threat. The South Korean military reportedly assumes that the missiles were the KN-25 short-range ballistic missiles, which the North defines as "rockets."

Though the missiles have a shorter range than those fired previously, both the South Korean and U.S. governments have shown a stringent response.

According to the presidential office, Friday, Kim Sung-han, head of South Korea's Office of National Security and his counterpart Jake Sullivan held a phone conversation Thursday and expressed "serious concerns over North Korea's recent provocation."

The previous Moon Jae-in administration refrained from describing North Korea's missile launches as a provocation since September last year, after Kim Yo-jong, the North Korean leader's sister, claimed that describing the North's missile launches as a provocation is South Korea's double standard which hampers Moon's proposal of proclaiming an official end to the Korean War.

However, President Yoon has projected a hardline approach to North Korea's threats as part of his campaign pledges before being elected, even mentioning the necessity of a preemptive strike to counter Pyongyang's serious threats.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also said in a press briefing that "the United States assesses that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) could be ready to conduct a (nuclear) test there as early as this month," adding this assessment is consistent with Pyongyang's recent public statements and destabilizing actions.

She also said that the U.S. continues to support "international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable North Koreans," but the country does not currently have plans to share vaccines with the North.
"Any inter-Korean cooperation in fighting COVID-19 will not be easy, because the South Korean government is now led by hawkish figures, who are describing North Korea's short range ballistic missile launch as a serious provocation," Cheong said.

The Korea Times · by 2022-05-13 15:16 | North Korea · May 13, 2022

10. Biden considering Korea DMZ visit when traveling to Asia this month
I know he has been to the DMZ a number of times and probably more times than any modern president when you consider his trips as a Senator and as the Vice President. But it is almost an obligatory photo op.

Biden considering Korea DMZ visit when traveling to Asia this month
Reuters · by Trevor Hunnicutt
WASHINGTON, May 12 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden is considering a trip to the Korean Demilitarized Zone when he visits Asia later this month, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday.
Biden is expected to visit South Korea and Japan from May 20-24 and hold talks with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts.
Psaki said the White House was still finalizing details of the Asia schedule. Many foreign dignitaries visiting the region make a trip to the heavily fortified DMZ separating the two Koreas.

Several former U.S. presidents, and Biden himself before he became president, have visited the DMZ, but former President Donald Trump became the first to have met a North Korean leader there when he held a third meeting with Kim Jong Un in June 2019 as part of his unsuccessful effort to persuade Kim to give up his nuclear and missile programs.
The DMZ is often described as the world's last Cold War frontier and has existed since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a armistice rather than a peace treaty.
Psaki repeated a U.S. assessment that North Korea could be ready to conduct a seventh nuclear test as early as this month. North Korea has not tested a nuclear bomb since 2017, but resumed testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles this year.
"We shared this information with allies and partners and are closely coordinating with them," Psaki said.
South Korea's presidential official also said the North appeared ready for a new nuclear test, adding that it could launch more missiles before another test, according to the Yonhap news agency.
North Korea has recently stepped up weapons tests and resumed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches this year for the first time since 2017.
U.S. and South Korean officials have been saying for weeks that there are signs of new construction at Punggye-ri, North Korea's only known nuclear test site, and that Pyongyang could soon test another bomb.
North Korea fired three ballistic missiles towards the sea off its east coast on Thursday, South Korea and Japan said. read more
In condemning the latest launch, the U.S. State Department said it remained committed to a diplomatic approach with North Korea and reiterated a call for Pyongyang to return to dialogue.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, David Brunnstrom and Jarrett Renshaw; Additional reporting by Soo-hyang Choi in Seoul; Editing by Chris Reese, Mark Porter and Sandra Maler
Reuters · by Trevor Hunnicutt

11.  Why Did N.Korea Finally Admit COVID Outbreak?
The headline question is not sufficiently answered. Desperation or a deliberate political warfare effort?  

The vaccine issue is important to understand. It does not appear the regime could disseminate the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines because it does not have the infrastructure to do so.


North Korea's latest announcements is probably a plea for vaccines and medicine. But it only wants mRNA coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which require careful cold-chain handling that is impossible in a country like the North, which suffers from persistent power outages. The only viable option now would be to supply vast amounts of treatment pills.

Why Did N.Korea Finally Admit COVID Outbreak?
May 13, 2022 14:22
North Korea in February last year appointed a new ambassador to China, but former ambassador Ji Jae-ryong is still holding the fort because the North sealed its borders when the coronavirus pandemic erupted. North Korea was also the only country not to take part in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year citing the pandemic.
But on Thursday it finally admitted coronavirus infections inside its borders. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un convened a politburo meeting on Thursday, where he was seen wearing a mask for the first time, and declared "the gravest national emergency." Until now, the North has claimed it has zero infections.

North Korea has taken a different approach to the pandemic from its ally China, which administered its own vaccine to the public. So far, 87 percent of China's population received the second dose. China also has an increasingly hysterical zero-COVID policy, but North Korea not only refused Chinese vaccines but even the WHO-led COVAX Facility. The only other country in the world that has yet to start vaccinating its people is Eritrea, another crackpot dictatorship.
The official Korean Central News Agency claimed samples taken from patients in Pyongyang with a fever "coincided with the Omicron BA.2 variant." The Omicron variant is less lethal than previous strains, but that applies mainly to vaccinated people and it could still be devastating for malnourished North Koreans with weak immune systems. Moreover, an outbreak could have devastating consequences in a country without any proper medical facilities. The reclusive country has sealed its borders every time there was an epidemic in the world like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus in 2015, and even Ebola in Africa in 2014.
North Korea's latest announcements is probably a plea for vaccines and medicine. But it only wants mRNA coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which require careful cold-chain handling that is impossible in a country like the North, which suffers from persistent power outages. The only viable option now would be to supply vast amounts of treatment pills.
  • Copyright © Chosunilbo &

12. Reps. Steel, Kim Push Administration to Reaffirm Commitment to U.S./South Korean Alliance - OKN

I wish they had mentioned a free and unified Korea.

Reps. Steel, Kim Push Administration to Reaffirm Commitment to U.S./South Korean Alliance - OKN · May 12, 2022
May 10, 2022
Washington, D.C. –Ahead of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s inauguration, Reps. Michelle Steel (R-CA) and Young Kim (R-CA) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging them to strengthen the U.S.’s strategic deterrence efforts on the Korean Peninsula, push back against Kim Jong Un’s latest hostility, and reaffirm a collaborative approach with the incoming Administration. The lawmakers sent the letter on the eve of the inauguration and after increasingly aggressive military escalations by the North Korean regime in recent months.
“It is clear that Kim Jong-Un is not interested in pursuing an end of war declaration and has focused on improving the DPRK’s ability to fire nuclear or short-range conventional warheads at the Republic of Korea, Japan, and U.S. military bases,” wrote the members.
They continued, “That’s why it is vital that you work with the Yoon Administration to enhance U.S. Deterrence in Northeast Asia to prevent any further escalation by the DPRK.”
“As our military and diplomatic engagements continue to grow, it is our responsibility to immediately work with our allies and ameliorate the response to the DPRK’s aggression towards our partners and friends in Korea,” the members concluded.
The full text of the letter is here and below:
Dear Secretary Austin and Secretary Blinken:
As Members of Congress who are deeply committed to the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) safety and security, we write to express our strong support for the U.S.-ROK Alliance and urge collaboration with the Yoon Administration to strengthen U.S. Extended Deterrence on the Korean Peninsula in light of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) provocations.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, led by Kim Jong-Un, has conducted 15 missile tests in the first five months of 2022. By comparison, the DPRK conducted eight missile tests in 2021 and four in 2020. Even more concerning is that on March 24, 2022, the DPRK launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) since 2017 which would be able to reach our allies and may demonstrate the ability of DPRK to strike the continental U.S.
It is clear that Kim Jong-Un is not interested in pursuing an end of war declaration and has focused on improving the DPRK’s ability to fire nuclear or short-range conventional warheads at the Republic of Korea, Japan, and U.S. military bases. That’s why it is vital that you work with the Yoon Administration to enhance U.S. Deterrence in Northeast Asia to prevent any further escalation by the DPRK.
The U.S. plays an important role in supporting our allies, anticipating danger, and improving strategic stability – especially on the Korean Peninsula. Capabilities, such as U.S. Extended Deterrence, provide an avenue for necessary resources and weapons in the region to bolster our unified posture. This careful consideration is a challenge that requires effective communication between the U.S. and the Yoon Administration to deter, compel, or contain the DPRK. As our military and diplomatic engagements continue to grow, it is our responsibility to immediately work with our allies and ameliorate the response to the DPRK’s aggression towards our partners and friends in Korea.
We look forward to working with you on the many important issues relating to this strong alliance. · May 12, 2022

13. North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: A New Practice Creates a New Analytical Challenge

Imagery at the link below.

North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: A New Practice Creates a New Analytical Challenge

Recent commercial satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site indicates efforts to restore Tunnel No. 3 (formerly referred to as the South Portal area) continue. Spoil displaced while trying to create a new entrance to the two test tunnels has been spread over the nearby access roads. This is likely an effort to improve their durability, although it makes it more difficult to assess the amount of spoil being excavated and estimate progress made. Finally, vehicle activity continues to be seen around both the test tunnel area and Command Center, suggesting the site is being readied for future nuclear test(s).
Activity at Tunnel No. 3
On imagery from May 10, the rectangular shelter used to house the HVAC and other equipment providing air, lighting, ventilation and power to the tunnel network can be seen. The tunnel entrance is to its immediate right. The technical arrangements at the entrance appear to be similar to what was once located at the former North Portal before it was demolished and sealed in 2013 after the country’s third nuclear test.
Since April 27, the cabling seen leading to the portal now clearly extends into the entrance. Additional equipment and materials have also arrived and are staged to the north side of the entrance. The roof of the support structure under construction near the east edge of the spoil pile has been completed.
Figure 1. Activity around Tunnel No. 3 on April 27, 2022 and May 10, 2022.

Image Pleiades Neo © Airbus DS 2022. For media options, please contact
The main access road is an unpaved dirt road that starts at Punggye-ri and winds along the riverbed leading to Mt. Mantap. As such, it requires periodic resurfacing to repair it from winter erosion and seasonal flooding. The roads are usually graded with sand, gravel or whatever is conveniently available.
On imagery from both May 9 and 10, segments of the road going south from the portal are now covered with the grayish colored spoil from tunnel excavations. While this new practice is a clever use of the spoil, rather than just leaving it in a big pile, it does create a new analytical challenge for those monitoring progress made at the test site. In the past, monitoring and measuring the spoil pile over time would help analysts approximate the extent of tunneling activity. Estimates going forward regarding potential tunnel length and depth are likely to be less precise.
Figure 2. Spoil covering segments of road leading south from portal.
Image Pleiades Neo © Airbus DS 2022. For media options, please contact
On May 9, a red dump truck is observed at the south tunnel complex next to the support building. Its load is a gray material, the same as the color of spoil, suggesting its involvement with road resurfacing activity.
Figure 3. Dump truck observed near Tunnel No. 3 on May 9, 2022.
Image © 2022 Planet Labs, PBC cc-by-nc-sa 4.0. For media licensing options, please contact
Other Activity
At the Main Support Area, a new building is being constructed, first observed on April 27. On May 10, interior walls are being added.
Figure 4. New building under construction at Main Support Area.
Image Pleiades NEO © Airbus DS 2022. For media options, please contact
On May 10, a vehicle is parked at the Command Center area. This is the second observation of a vehicle at this facility since the road and bridge repair was reported at the beginning of May.
Figure 5. Vehicle parked at Command Center area on May 10, 2022.
Image Pleiades Neo © Airbus DS 2022. For media options, please contact

14. North Korea in a sudden shock Covid crisis

I think we are the ones in shock. Kim has known he has had a COVID problem for some time. We are shocked that he has chosen to reveal the problem now. The more I think about it, the more I think it may be Kim's deliberate plan to create dilemmas for us and friction within the ROK/US alliance.

We should keep in mind what "saved" the regime and the Korean people in the 1990s during the Arduous March of the famine of 1994-96.

The Sunshine policy of Kim Dae Jung saved the regime by transferring hundreds of millions of dollars to the regime. After the collapse of the Party's public Distribution System, the Korean people developed nascent markets which grew over the years and has served as the safety valve for the people. However, with the COVID Paradox Kim took the opportunity to crack down on markets, foreign currency , internal movement, and information to further oppress the Korean people.

When faced with instability in the current situation Kim Jong-un may not have an escape mechanism and then the regime could collapse. Are we ready for this possibility?

North Korea in a sudden shock Covid crisis
With Covid-19 breaching its fortress walls, disaster looms for North Korea, a country isolated from the world · by Andrew Salmon · May 13, 2022
SEOUL – North Korea had previously managed to insulate itself from Covid-19, but while much of the world is now exiting the pandemic crisis, the isolated nation has finally succumbed.
Pyongyang state media, monitored in Seoul, reported Friday that six people had died on Thursday, there were about 18,000 newly reported cases of “fever” and 187,000 people were being isolated and treated.
Underlining the gravity of the situation, leader Kim Jong Un was photographed wearing a protective mask, something he has declined to wear, even when attending mass rallies and congresses.

Pyongyang said it was initiating a “maximum emergency” antivirus system to deal with a “fever” that has been spreading across North Korea since late April, impacting 350,000 people, according to the Korean Central News Agency.
Although the KCNA did not identify it, fever is a common symptom of Covid-19. It also noted that one of the people who died had the Omicron variant.
It is possible the sudden outbreak is linked to the huge numbers of people who converged on the capital Pyongyang last month. A daytime mass rally was held in central Pyongyang on April 15, while a military parade was held on April 25.
The disaster raises urgent questions about logistical, technological and political barriers to assisting a country that is isolated and sanctioned. To make matters worse, many embassies in Pyongyang are un-manned or under-manned.
Kim Jong Un has called for lockdowns. Photo: AFP
Contrary to popular belief, North Korea has a well-thumbed and effective playbook for dealing with infectious diseases.

Before Covid, it tightly closed its frontiers against SARS, MERS and Ebola – apparently effectively. It has deployed the same strategy against Covid, employing perhaps the world’s toughest border controls.
For the last two years, Pyongyang has been an information black hole on Covid, but one expert told Asia Times that it is likely the measures have been effective.
Andrei Lankov, a North Korea watcher at Seoul’s Kookmin University, who grew up in the USSR and studied in Pyongyang, says the country’s Soviet-style health system was expressly designed to deal with pandemics.
The country’s national health system boasts a high ratio of doctors to population, although the doctors are less trained than their Western counterparts. Its system of social controls enables the prevention of human movement, thereby stunting transmission, and it can use draconian measures to quarantine those affected.
Lankov speculated that smugglers who had clandestinely crossed the China border to trade had caught the disease and bought it into the country.

But while North Korea’s systems offer a considerable defense, its health infrastructure suffers from a lack of resources and significant segments of its population are under-nourished, a factor that degrades immune systems.
The situation demands swift action, said Human Rights Watch, in a note sent to reporters.
“A nationwide announcement acknowledging the contagion and spread of Covid-19 is extremely concerning,” said Lina Yoon, a senior researcher at HRW’s Asia Division. “Most North Koreans are chronically malnourished and unvaccinated, there are barely any medicines left in the country and the health infrastructure is incapable to deal with this pandemic.”
Barriers to assistance
One issue that has historically hampered the activities of aid groups in North Korea is the lack of oversight. Amid Covid, North Korea has declined to receive vaccines from the international vaccine distribution body Covax.
“Covax wanted some accountability, but North Korea did not want that,” Jerome Kim, who heads the International Vaccine Institute, told Asia Times.

If Pyongyang’s stance changed, it would be feasible, given the state of global vaccine stocks, to send in millions of doses. The world responded to the crisis with unprecedented swift development, rollout and distribution of vaccines across the world to the point where there is an oversupply.
“We are in a situation now where there is vaccine access,” said Kim. “If fact, companies are cutting production.”
He suggested that if the political will existed, logistics connections from China and South Korea, combined with appropriate technologies, could enable a super-fast, national inoculation program.
Divisions of returning elite party members attend a meeting to pledge loyalty before the portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, upon their arrival at the Kumsusan palace in Pyongyang following their deployment to rural provinces to aid in recovery efforts amid damage caused by a September typhoon. Photo: AFP / Kim Won Jin
“You could send vaccines on refrigerated trucks over the land connections from South Korea or China,” Kim said. “And we can put liquid nitrogen onto trains, so vaccines could be stored safely.”
He cited the Ecuadorian “zero to hero” program, with nine million people vaccinated in 100 days, resulting in “their mortalities plummeting.”
The problem with North Korea is neither logistics, technologies nor medicines. It is the politics of a state in which aid distribution is limited not only by global sanctions, which prevent the importation of multiple technologies, but by a paranoid regime that is reluctant to offer open access to foreign parties.
Given these constraints, Lankov suggested Pyongyang has three options.
One would be a “Swedish strategy” – let the virus spread and build eventual herd immunity. “Many will die, but eventually the virus will die out,” he said.
But there is a problem. State media has spent more than two years painting Covid very, very darkly.
“If you look at the Rodong Shinmun [newspaper], 30-50% of their international news was on the dangers of Covid,” Lankov said. That indicates that doing nothing could generate panic. “It will be highly risky for them,” he said.
Another would be a Chinese-style “zero-Covid” solution of hard lockdowns. “They will probably do a Shanghai,” Lankov said. “They can enforce strict isolation of different areas, close down non-essential production and stop people from economic activity.”
This presents another problem. North Korea lacks the sophisticated distribution assets China has to keep locked-down populations fed.
“It is not clear if Kim Jong Un and his advisers understand this. China is so much richer, and has the logistics to supply people,” Lankov said. “So, if they emulate China, the likely outcomes will be an economic disaster and probably famine.”
The third option would be to ask outside players in to assist.
“That will be bad for their international stature. They will see it as humiliating,” Lankov said.
Closed. A North Korean village is seen from Dandong, Liaoning province, China, on November 3, 2020. Photo: AFP / Koki Katqoka / The Yomiuri Shimbun
To act or not to act
“They could turn to Beijing or Russia for assistance,” said a person familiar with the North Korean policies of the Moon Jae-in administration, which exited office this week, who spoke to Asia Times on condition of anonymity.
“But North Korea should come up with its own damage assessment first.”
South Korea is ready to help with humanitarian aid. And there is a potentially providential timing issue. With the new Yoon Suk-yeol administration settling into the corridors of power in Seoul, and with US President Joe Biden visiting the city on May 21, could the North’s Covid crisis offer an opportunity for a relationship reset?
North Korea-US relations have been frigid since the failure of a summit in Vietnam in 2019. With South Korea joined at the hip to ally the US, that situation inevitably froze North-South relations, too.
One expert was doubtful.
“Human assistance could be a breakthrough – I’d look to hope so – but I don’t think so,” said the expert, who noted that the Yoon administration has a hard line against North Korea and has not yet utilized channels of communication to Pyongyang.
Moreover, North Korea is on an escalatory pathway in its weapons testing cycle.
“The optics would look bad from the North Korean point of view as they are at a moment of weakness,” said Go Myong-hyun, a North Korean expert at Seoul’s Asan Institute. “I don’t think North Korea is crying for help right now. They have handled [the pandemic] well so far, so they are probably confident they can handle this, too.”
Go cited the relatively low mortality rate of Covid-19. According to Statista, the highest mortality rate, per million people nationally, has been Peru, with 6,452.81 dead of Covid. The lowest is Burundi, with 3.2.
“The number of dead in North Korea so far is six, though the number of infected is probably huge,” Go said. “If not that many people are dying, why would they undermine their political stance to get vaccines?”
North Korea is certainly resilient. In defiance of multiple Western voices predicting a regime collapse, Pyongyang mastered a catastrophic famine in the early 1990s, known today as the “Arduous March,” that is believed to have killed hundreds of thousands – some estimates are even higher.
But there is another dynamic in play. Kim of IVI urged global action, and not only on the basis of assisting North Korea’s immuno-compromised, highly vulnerable population.
“We should be driven by humanitarian concerns, and large outbreaks generate more mutants and variants,” he said. “So if we help North Korea, we would be helping ourselves.”
Yoon of HRW agrees.
“The international community should offer medicine for Covid-19 related symptoms, Covid-19 treating anti-viral medicines and provide vaccines and all necessary infrastructure for vaccine preservation, including fridges, generators and gasoline,” she wrote.
Follow Andrew Salmon on Twitter: @Andrewcsalmon · by Andrew Salmon · May 13, 2022

David Maxwell
Senior Fellow
Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Phone: 202-573-8647
Personal Email:
Web Site:
Twitter: @davidmaxwell161
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David Maxwell
Senior Fellow
Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Phone: 202-573-8647
Personal Email:
Web Site:
Twitter: @davidmaxwell161
Subscribe to FDD’s new podcastForeign Podicy
FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

If you do not read anything else in the 2017 National Security Strategy read this on page 14:

"A democracy is only as resilient as its people. An informed and engaged citizenry is the fundamental requirement for a free and resilient nation. For generations, our society has protected free press, free speech, and free thought. Today, actors such as Russia are using information tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies. Adversaries target media, political processes, financial networks, and personal data. The American public and private sectors must recognize this and work together to defend our way of life. No external threat can be allowed to shake our shared commitment to our values, undermine our system of government, or divide our Nation."
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