In the Catholic Peace Weekly Diagnosis of the Times Column, a researcher in Far East problems gives us his thoughts on North Korea.
It's hard for us to forget North Korea even for a moment. This is because it has a lot of influence on the fate of the Korean Peninsula and our lives in many ways. Like it or not, North Korea will always be the subject of our attention and observation. For those who are deeply prejudiced and misunderstand North Korea, the situation is always the same—North Korea is still nothing less than an object of distrust, disgust, and hostility.
These days, North Korea is drawing attention again. As it has been a while since the lockdown was made due to Covid-19, questions are growing about the internal situation in North Korea. North Korea is believed to be having the toughest time since the inauguration of the Kim Jong Un regime. There is nothing favorable about the tightened international sanctions, the Covid-19 epidemic, and even the continuation of the North Korea-U.S. and inter-Korean conflict.
It has been well over a year since the Covid-19 quarantine measures closed China's borders and strongly restricted the travel of people and goods. In 2020, trade with China decreased by 80.7 percent, and decreased by about 90 percent compared to 2016, before economic sanctions were tightened. Internally, the shortage of supplies will inevitably intensify. Nevertheless, North Korea maintains a consistent policy stance with no concessions at all on quarantine measures. At a consistently strong level since February last year, emergency measures have been taken strictly. In response, the outside world is expressing criticism by linking the human rights of North Koreans. They say that North Koreans are being overly controlled for the reason of the Covid-19 quarantine and that the economic crisis is deepening.
However, North Korea is adamant in its position. In the past, with natural disasters, they would have reached out to our side or international organizations for active assistance, whether it was food or vaccines, even informally. In the past, natural disasters such as flood damage and typhoon damage in North Korea or other national crises used to be an opportunity for inter-Korean relations or a shift in U.S.-North Korea relations. But now it's different. There is no sign of compromise on quarantine measures. North Korea's sensitive response to ballons sent from the South from some North Korean defector groups is also closely related to the Corona quarantine. North Korean media are showing extreme vigilance, saying that viruses can enter objects blown by the wind, and showing gestures to respond with anti-aircraft guns if necessary. For Chairman Kim Jong-un, the success of the quarantine is a great achievement that he has achieved, so it is absolutely unacceptable to break the quarantine.
If North Korea's behavior is analyzed, evaluated, and predicted based on past patterns, it is self-evident that it is not properly reading the current Kim Jong-un regime and making a wrong judgment. The Kim Jong Un regime is trying to use the current crisis as a stepping stone for its leap forward. North Korea has constantly emphasized that self-reliance leaning on science and technology is a key strategy for national development, and worship of the powerful and dependence on foreign powers are the way to subjugation and ruin." It is said that the only thing to believe is technology. But that doesn't mean it won't improve foreign relations. Although it will expand and develop external relations, it is said that self-rehabilitation is a priority for this. Without relying on South Korea or even China, the government intends to strengthen its own power, consolidate capabilities, internal solidarity to overcome the current difficulties. Of course, it remains to be seen how effective these positions and strategies will be. Anyway, it seems more important than ever to understand changed North Korea properly.