Kim Jong Un's economic risk in the face of COVID-19
The country's Supreme Leader has cut trade with China to curb the virus' spread.
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The progress of coronavirus in North Korea has been difficult to track because of the country's secrecy and the lack of outside delegates to confirm or deny rumors. For example, it has been difficult to corroborate a report about a defector who returned to the country infected. To date, Pyongyang has not reported a single case of the virus.
How the neighboring country to where coronavirus originated and then spread to 188 countries avoided infection is the secret or lie that only North Koreans can confirm. As a result, we must assume based on foreign relations moves. At the moment, exports to China decreased by 99% in October.
The decline was initially reported Chinese government officials and CNN. It is especially relevant considering China is the main trade partner of North Korea. Such a move limits and has the potential to severely damage its economy. It could also mean that the dictator knows of a much greater evil, which is the inability of North Korea's health system to manage a pandemic that has already overwhelmed health systems of much-better equipped countries.
Until now, they had blocked the area of Kaesong and closed the borders along with airspace and territorial waters. The government also put surveillance along the entire coastline. Now, it seems that some guards have been executed for not successfully carrying out their prevention protocols effectively. Waste arriving by sea has also been ordered to be incinerated.
Kim Jong Un, the dictator who was thought twice this year to be on his deathbed, finds his country potentially on the brink. Not only has he cut trade ties with a country that accounted for up to 90% of his imports and exports, but he also has numerous international fines for his nuclear weapons program.
On the flip side, the new measure also represents a new challenge for the Chinese economy that will have to redirect the labor that generated the products for North Korea. The move is also surprising considering China was one of the countries that quickly curbed the pandemic and has the lowest number of people currently infected.
However, analysts like Joshua Berlinger believe that the panic could be due to the fact that, however few cases there were, North Korea's leaders know that its health system is deeply deficient and incapable even of stopping tuberculosis. The effect of COVID-19 on a scale of 25 million inhabitants could be devastating. But so too will the economic crisis for its citizens if they are forced to close major factories with a government that accumulates severe international sanctions that are still unpaid.