Kim Jong Un’s influential sister vowed to “eradicate” South Korea’s leaders if they continued to let propaganda leaflets cross the border, repeating dubious claims that pamphlets caused the recent COVID outbreak in the north.
Kim Yo Jong blamed “South Korean puppets” for sending “dirty objects” across the border in leaflets carried by balloons, the official Korean Central News Agency reported Thursday. The younger Kim also disclosed that her brother was stricken by “high fever” during the outbreak, in an unusual admission for a regime that rarely comments on the leader’s health.
The remarks by Kim Yo Jong, who has been the face of North Korea’s pressure campaign and against Washington and Seoul, included her first threat against the government of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol who took power in May.
“If the enemy continues to do such a dangerous thing that can introduce a virus into our republic, we will respond by eradicating not only the virus but also the South Korean authorities,” she said in a speech at a meeting of ruling party officials reviewing policies to battle the epidemic.
North Korea’s escalating rhetoric against Seoul could set the stage for a resumption of military provocations that have slowed in recent months, possibility due to the outbreak. North Korea appears to be readying conduct its first nuclear test since 2017, government officials from Japan, South Korea and the U.S. said.
Any display of the weapons in Kim’s nuclear arsenal would serve as a reminder of the pressing security problems posed by Pyongyang that have simmered as U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has been focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
North Korea — one of only two United Nations member states that has not launched a vaccination program — has apparently been trying to deflect blame away from its leader over an outbreak that was too big to ignore. The government has claimed that “alien things” sent across the border by balloons from the south brought the coronavirus into its territory — with health experts and the South Korean government saying there are no precedents for the type of transmission described by its neighbor.
“It is quite natural for us to consider strange objects as vehicles of the malignant pandemic disease,” Kim Yo Jong said adding her brother guided an “epoch-making miracle” in eradicating the virus.
Since North Korea controls all access to public health data, its claims about the virus cannot be verified. Health experts said it was virtually impossible for the state to have ended the spread of a disease at home that has circled the globe for more than two years and infected hundreds of millions of people.
But by claiming victory, North Korea may be “paving its way to resume its trade with China,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul who has advised the South Korean government. Kim Jong Un shut borders at the start of the pandemic, which added more misery to his sanctions-hit economy and slammed the brakes on trade with its biggest benefactor, China.
Activist groups led by North Korean defectors have sent millions of anti-Pyongyang leaflets by balloon from South Korea for years, and Kim’s regime often seizes upon them when it wants to increase tensions.
Similar leaflets were at the center of a series of North Korean complaints in the summer of 2020 that culminated in the regime blowing up an inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border. Kim Yo Jong was also at forefront of the rhetorical attacks then against the government of former President Moon Jae-in.
There are plenty of places where the virus could enter North Korea. While airports have largely been shut during the pandemic, the regime reopened a rail link with China in January and black-market traders frequently cross the border. A U.N. body has said satellite images show sea traffic at its main international port of Nampho, and illicit trade is conducted on the open seas in violation of sanctions.
North Korea also issued a statement saying that its leader suffered from a “fever,” without specifying a date. Kim Jong Un was “seriously ill,” but “could not lie down for even a moment because of his concerns for the people,” Kim Yo Jong said in a speech. She didn’t elaborate whether her brother was among what North Korea calls “fever cases.”
North Korea had not called the hundreds of thousands of fever cases “COVID,” perhaps because the reclusive country doesn’t have enough testing kits to confirm that the cases were caused by the coronavirus.
It has refused vaccines from the outside world, with reports saying planned shipments have been put on hold because it is unwilling to follow rules by Covax, a body backed by the World Health Organization.
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