Why North Korea is politicising the pandemic?

ISLAMABAD: Believe it or not, North Korea has accused its immediate neighbour, South Korea, for spreading Covid-19 disease into its territory through what it called, “exploding disease-filled balloons into its territory”.

While the humanity suffered massively due to the outbreak of novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the disease had a toll on global economy too. According to the World Health Organisation, around 6.53 million lost their lives at the hands of the disease globally while 613 million cases were reported.

While the world fought the disease jointly, there were individuals, organisations and countries who tried to politicise the disease. Among those, the most absurd allegation came from Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), better known as North Korea, whereby the state alleged that the disease had been unleashed on its civilians by its immediate neighbour – Republic of Korea (ROK), also known as South Korea, by “exploding disease-filled balloons into its territory”.

North Korea’s National Meeting of Reviewing the Emergency Anti-Epidemic Work was convened in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on August 10, 2022 to review the successes and experience gained from the work of terminating the COVID-19 crisis that persisted for the past three months and to discuss the future measures to prevent its recurrence.

According to the report, the disease was spread through scattering of objects by airborne balloons from south Korea. However, North Korea failed to win diplomatic support for its allegation which looked absurd and groundless.

One must remember that North Korean statistical capacity and health system are extremely poor and there is a possibility of manipulation of data itself, hence, experts pose fundamental and general doubt about the credibility of North Korea’s statistics.

It is questionable how ‘scientific’ North Korea’s investigation results could be, given that they are neither reviewed nor confirmed by an external party. Even if the possibility of fomite transmission is taken into account, experts’ ‘scientific’ opinion is that it is more viable to consider other causes, such as freight trains which ran in the first half of year 2022 in and out of North Korea or seaborne trade, to be the sources of the Covid-19 outbreak in North Korea rather than the leaflets with extremely low infectivity after a long period of outdoor exposure.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the possibility of fomite (contaminated surfaces) transmission is under 0.0001%. Moreover, air dilution and UV light exposure, the kind of environment the leaflets are exposed to, further lowers the possibility.

The North Korean argument about the leaflets being the root cause of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country should be reviewed in line with the current Covid-19 situation as well as the general context of inter-Korean relations.

The North Korean regime views the inflow of outside information as a threat to its system, thereby responding to this issue in an exceptionally sensitive manner. A clear example would be the bombing of the inter-Korean joint liaison office by North Korea in June 2020 in retaliation for flying leaflets over to its territory.

Taking various aspects into consideration, North Korea is blaming the leaflets for its Covid-19 outbreak based on very weak scientific grounds. By doing so, it intends to shift its responsibility to the ROK, harden its people’s hostile view toward the ROK, and use the Covid-19 situation as a pretext for strengthening its offensive against the ROK.

In response, South Korea government has called on the North Korean regime to take responsibility for the well-being of its people by accepting international offers for health cooperation rather than concentrating on the proliferation of its groundless claim.

As the North Korean capacity for diagnostic tests for Covid-19 and data collection are far below international standards, and international investigation would be necessary to verify the North’s assertion. If such investigation takes places, the South Korea is ready to take an active part in it.

As a saying goes, “a bad neighbour is a misfortune”, the people of South Korea have to face a blame for a rowdy and obstreperous regime in North Korea for all its faults and failures. Since South Korea is far ahead of North Korea in terms of development and economic growth, the regime led by Kim Jong Un always blames its neighbour.

It is amazing to note that majority of the world community believes that the origin of novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was China, North Korea is choosing not to blame China for the outbreak despite the fact that all it’s trade and communication is linked to China. If blaming China was not a good idea, so is blaming South Korea.

It’s about time that the world community take serious note of the unilateral and hostile allegations by the North Korean government against South Korea or this blame game may put the future of the Korean peninsula in a jeopardy.

INP/AJ

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