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Opinion | There’s a reason Kim Jong-un wants us to know about the raging North Korean outbreak

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The New York Times : Opinion | There’s a reason Kim Jong-un wants us to know about the raging North Korean outbreak

For more than two years, isolated North Korea claimed to have succeeded in stopping Covid and even rejected many vaccine offers, calling them unnecessary. Last month, that changed.

In a series of urgent dispatches, North Korean state media announced that a The fever is spreading “explosively.” The country has come to a standstill. More than four million cases was reported, with dozens of deaths.

It’s a scary prospect for a unvaccinated, malnutrition country of 25 million people. But bad news doesn’t escape North Korea without reason. Finally, acknowledging a virus outbreak could be part of leader Kim Jong-un’s strategy to re-engage with the outside world. The world should also be ready to participate.

Since his nuclear negotiations with President Donald Trump collapsed in 2019, soon followed by the global spread of Covid, Mr. Kim has retreated into a Isolation that is profound even by North Korea’s closed standards. This thing has been ravaged its people. It’s also a threat to peace and security outside of the Korean Peninsula: He spent time intervening exert his power – and expand nuclear arsenal.

North Korea is now believed to possess dozens of nuclear devices and seems ready to carry out a seventh nuclear test. It has been put to the test dozens breaching missile Resolution of the United Nations Security Council this year alone – including, recently, intercontinental ballistic missile suspected designed to come to the United States.

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Questions surround the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, as well as vaccines and treatments.

The moving sword is nothing new. North Korea’s weapons program has upset President Biden’s four predecessorsEach side used various incentives and sanctions, ultimately failing to stop the production of nuclear warheads and missiles.

So why acknowledge a Covid outbreak now? Just as Mr. Kim is sending a message with his rocket launches, he is sending another by acknowledging the outbreak.

First of all, don’t believe for a second that Covid just appeared in North Korea. The virus had been circulating in China – a country with extensive cross-border trade with North Korea and frequent flights between Beijing and Pyongyang – for weeks before North Korea sealed its border in late January. 2020.

We also shouldn’t put too many North Korean stocks in recent times declared success In fight the outbreak. Covid may “get worse, not better” Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s director of emergencies, said last week. The WHO has expressed concern about uncontrolled spread among unvaccinated North Koreans.

It is possible that cases are increasing rapidly in the capital, Pyongyang, to the point of admitting an outbreak. But there’s also an element of political timing involved in announcing the outbreak just before Mr. Biden’s recent trip to South Korea and Japan.

Mr. Kim may be pursuing a bilateral strategy. The missile launches maintain tensions with the United States and South Korea that help him justify building up his nuclear arsenal, putting him in a stronger position for any negotiations or future deadlock.

And the Covid confession serves as a frugal way to secure humanitarian help and other items from Beijing – which has always been concerned about the neighboring country falling into crisis – after Mr. rejected China’s previous offers of vaccines. Just a few days after announcing the outbreak, North Korea is said to have sent three cargo planes to Shenyang, China, for emergency supplies. Came recently by rail. It may have received the Chinese vaccine.

Help is definitely needed. The people of North Korea have suffered from chronic food shortages since the Great Famine of the 1990s. Fruits, vegetables, and meat are luxuries for most people, and malnutrition manifests itself. in the rough skin, sunken cheeks, and thin faces of many of the people I met across the country during my years of reporting on the ground. Over the past two years, border closures that have blocked the flow of food, medicine and other supplies have made survival more difficult.

Most hospitals and clinics do not have heat, medicine or supplies. I have seen North Korean nurses pour syringes into the sink and rinse them with disinfectant for reuse. In winter, doctors and patients wrap themselves in thick coats because the heat is destined for the operating room.

A North Korean doctor told me years ago that she relied on preventive care because she had no medicine to give her patients, not even for diarrhea, which she said kills a lot of North Korean children every year. Hand-painted posters plastered on the walls of her rural clinic suggest eating two raw garlic cloves, drinking a supplement with an egg and sliced ​​ginseng, or sipping warm water with sliced ​​green onions and sugar to avoid colds and flu.

The doctor told me that outside the capital, most North Koreans living in mountainous areas cannot even reach provincial hospitals because of poor roads and traffic. They can get sick in isolation.

The prospect for new talks with North Korea looks unlikely at the moment. Mr. Biden has made it clear that he will not press charges against Mr. Kim how Donald Trump did. During Mr. Biden’s visit to South Korea, a reporter asked the president if he had a message for Kim. His answer Brief “Hello. Stage = Stage.” Mr. Biden appears intent on containing North Korea while leaving the door open for diplomacy when the time is right.

Mr. Kim may not be talking to Washington, Seoul or Tokyo right now. But if Beijing is to accept help, the US and its allies must find a way to work with China in their mutual interest in curbing the virus outbreak in North Korea’s vulnerable population. – and re-engage Pyongyang in nuclear negotiations. Otherwise, the United States risks being excluded from a rare opportunity for political opening.

During the ravages of the deadly famine of the 1990s, North Korea carried out a unprecedented call for international food aid. As a result, support from the United States and others helped bring it to the nuclear negotiating table. North Korea’s Covid moment may offer a similar opportunity.

Jean H. Lee (@newsjean) opened the Associated Press’s Pyongyang office in 2012 and made dozens of reporting trips to North Korea between 2008 and 2017. She is the co-host of the podcast “Lazarus Heist” ” from the BBC World Service and a scholar affiliated with the Wilson Center in Washington.

The Times is committed to publishing variety of letters for the editor. We’d love to know what you think of this or any of our articles. Here are some advice. And here is our email: letter@nytimes.com.

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I am passionate about journalism and using new technology to spread news. I am also interested in politics and economics, and I am always looking for ways to make a difference in the world. I am the CEO of Janaseva News, and I am 24 years old.

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