What does Kim Jong-un think he’s doing popping off missiles when his people are suffering in their usual enforced silence?
The official photograph of Kim gloating with delight over the latest missile launch did not exactly cover up the fears of his regime. There, a few feet behind him, was one of his generals wearing a black mask. Kim himself no doubt has one too, but he couldn’t be seen showing his concern by wearing it for the state media.
The order to plop a pair of projectiles into the ocean may not have been a really big deal except for one thing: It revealed the weakness of a regime and a leader obsessed with the need to show off his deadly toys in the face of impending disaster.
No, Kim is not about to lose his job in an overdue “people’s uprising,” but he does have to keep hungry folks in line while thousands have come down with the mysterious bug and millions are scared as hell it could happen to them.
We would hope that most North Koreans have face masks like the one the general had on in the photo, but it’s a safe bet there are not enough to go around. No doubt many are making do with pieces of cloth. Anyway, masks aren’t guaranteed to protect anyone.
All manner of medical gizmos and gadgets, antibiotics and the doctors and nurses to administer them have to be available. But in North Korea, that stuff is just not there for most people.
North Korea “lacks the infrastructure to fight a pandemic,” writes Sue Mi Terry, onetime CIA analyst, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Its public health system is underdeveloped and dilapidated; its hospitals are barely functional and are void of medicines,” she says in a devastating piece in Foreign Affairs. “North Korea spends less on healthcare than any other country in the world (under $1 per person per year).”
It’s interesting that Kim ordered the first missile test in more than three months right after South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in called for cooperation between South and North for combating the virus. A splendid notion. Logical. Sensible. No way, of course, would Kim cooperate, not at the risk of a bunch of strange busybodies traipsing around the countryside seeing how people were doing.
In Kim’s fantasy world, missile tests offer an antidote to calamity. Evans Revere, a former top diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, believes they carry a message for Washington as well as Seoul. In an email, he cites the testing as “(1) NK’s way of reminding us they are there, (2) a demonstration that they can deal with COVID-19 and deal with us simultaneously, and (3) a reminder that they have laid out their ‘new path’ and intend to follow it.”
Fair enough. Just one thing Kim may not understand. President Donald Trump isn’t listening. He’s not bothering about his friend in Pyongyang. He’s totally caught up in this year’s campaign for re-election. “Trump has all but given up on NK,” Revere states in another message, while Trump and Moon both “feed off the illusion of denuclearization that they have created.”
Trump has been so thoroughly fooled by the whole Korean problem that he would probably like to forget Korea entirely. Behind a smokescreen of statement making, he’s gotten nowhere with Kim in three meetings, and he’s also annoyed America’s ally South Korea by demanding an impossible sum for the privilege of hosting U.S. forces.
You can’t be sure U.S. and South Korean negotiators will come to terms before the funding stops and the U.S. begins laying off several thousand Koreans working on U.S. bases.
The whole show contrasts sadly with the optimism generated when Kim’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, descended on the Pyongyang Winter Olympics more than two years ago bearing a letter from Big Brother setting in motion all those summits — three between Moon and Kim, two between Trump and Kim, plus the Trump-Kim love-in on the North-South line at Panmunjom last June.
Yo-jong was such a sweetheart, an angel of peace, but now she’s claiming the North has to test its hardware for defense against the South’s military buildup, including exercises with the hated Americans.
Little Sister’s appearance at the opening of the Pyongyang Olympics, right behind Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, seems so long ago. Does Big Bro now have her dashing all hope? Truly, the more things change, the more they stay the same.