South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said over the weekend that it is hard to believe North Korea’s claim that there has not been a virus outbreak on its soil.
He added that North Korea has not responded to South Korea’s offer of cooperation to jointly address the pandemic.
The North Korean leader’s sister, Kim Yo-Jong, responded in a statement released by state media.
“You can see from the reckless comments she made without considering the consequences that she is too eager to further cool the frozen relations between North and South Korea,” he said.
“His true intention is very clear. We will never forget your words and you may have to pay a high price for it, ”said Kim.
The comments show how sensitive North Korea is to what it sees as any external attempt to tarnish its image as a guard against the pandemic and economic fallout.
Despite its claim of a zero virus case, North Korea’s state media has repeatedly said that there is a “maximum emergency” anti-epidemic campaign in which it has closed its international borders, diplomats and isolated residents with suspicious symptoms.
The closure of the northern border with China, its largest trading partner, is ruining its already fragile economy.
North Korea has admitted that it faces “multiple crises” due to the pandemic, a series of natural disasters last summer and the persistent sanctions imposed by the United States on its nuclear program.
Experts have said that a major disease outbreak in North Korea could cause a humanitarian disaster due to its fragile health care system.
South Korea’s foreign minister said at a forum in Bahrain on Saturday that the pandemic had “made North Korea more North Korea, that is, a more closed and top-down decision-making process where there is very little debate about his measures to deal with COVID. ” -19 “.
“They still say they don’t have any cases, which is hard to believe,” Kang said.
“So all the signs are that the regimen is very focused on controlling the disease that they say they don’t have.”
Also this week, US Under Secretary of State Stephen Biegun is in Seoul to discuss North Korea and other topics.
South Korea’s spy agency recently told lawmakers that Kim Jong-Un had ordered diplomats abroad to refrain from any acts that could provoke Washington because he is concerned about President-elect Joe Biden’s expected new approach to North Korea.
Some observers say North Korea could still do something provocative to try to get Biden’s attention and create the need to restart stalled nuclear talks in which it could win concessions.