‘Covid-19 may be last straw that broke inter-Korean camel’s back’

Shim Hyun-tai  Published 2020.06.18  18:22  Updated 2020.06.19 14:56


Amid rampant speculations about what drove North Korea to sever ties with the South, some experts pointed out that choppy inter-Korean cooperation in fighting against the Covid-19 pandemic could be one reason.

Many pundits here said Thursday that unrelenting sanctions and national lockdowns due to Covid-19 caused crisis had exacerbated the public livelihoods in North Korea to their limit. Pyongyang leaders had to divert widespread disgruntlement outside, and found South Korea as the most natural scapegoat, they added.

Various South Korean institutions, including the Korea Development Institute, the Bank of Korea, and the Korea Institute of Industrial Science, analyzed that the North Korean economy is entering an unprecedented crisis as the Covid-19 shock came on top of the sanctions-depressed economy.

"Covid-19 has left a far greater impact on North Korea’s economy than it did on the South’s,” said Professor Yang Moon-soo of the University of North Korean Studies. “North Korea's anti-epidemic system is vulnerable, which explains why Pyongyang closed the Sino-Korean border so early.” Yang added that the U.N.-led sanctions and Covid-19 have been like a one-two punch to the North’s economy.

Concerning healthcare cooperation between the two Korea, the South failed to make a smooth delivery of Tamiflu to the North in January 2019, sending North Korean officials in Gaeseong empty-handed back to Pyongyang.

In 2018, too, it took months for the South to send finished drugs to North Korea, which may explain why North Korea refused to receive diagnostic kits that the Korean government offered after the Covid-19 outbreak.

"North Korea had to blame some outside forces for the crisis, in which the livelihoods of even the citizens of Pyongyang could not be guaranteed. So they turned toward South Korea," said Yun Duk-min, former head of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

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