Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister Kim Yo Jong on Wednesday slammed South Korea’s foreign minister for his “reckless remarks” about Pyongyang’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic – warning the top diplomat that she might have to “pay dearly,” according to reports.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Saturday that it was “hard to believe” that North Korea had no COVID-19 cases even as the country has been making all-out efforts to prevent the deadly illness, Reuters reported.
Pyongyang has not officially confirmed any cases, though it has said there were thousands of “suspected” ones.
“It can be seen from the reckless remarks made by [Kang] without any consideration of the consequences that she is too eager to further chill the frozen relations between North and South Korea,” Kim Yo Jong said in a statement carried by the KCNA news agency, the Guardian reported.
“Her real intention is very clear. We will never forget her words and she might have to pay dearly for it,” added Kim, a senior official in the ruling Workers’ party whom some describe as the rogue regime’s de facto second-in-command.
Her profile rose in the spring with a series of bellicose remarks aimed at Seoul and Washington — leading some to speculate that she was being groomed for succession of her sibling.
She later vanished from public view for more than two months and had not made any official comments since late July before Wednesday’s statements.
In her comments at a forum in Bahrain, Kang said the outbreak had “made North Korea more North Korea – that is, more closed, very top-down decision-making process where there is very little debate on their measures in dealing with COVID-19.”
She added at the IISS Manama Dialogue 2020: “They still say they do not have any cases, which is hard to believe. So, all signs are the regime is very intensely focused on controlling the disease that they say they do not have.”
Kang added that Pyongyang “has not been very responsive to our offer of help on the COVID-19 front.”
Last week, the official KCNA agency said the Hermit Kingdom had imposed “top-class emergency measures” in Pyongyang, including the shuttering of restaurants and other public places, as well as restrictions on people’s movements around the capital.
Seoul’s National Intelligence Service has said an outbreak of the virus in the North could not be ruled out as the secretive regime had trade and people-to-people exchanges with China, where the virus emerged a year ago, before sealing the border in late January.
According to the World Health Organization, North Korea had recorded nearly 8,000 suspected cases of the coronavirus as of Nov. 20 but has reported no confirmed infections so far.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un held three summits in 2018 but little progress has been made between the two countries since a failed 2019 summit between Kim and President Trump, which Moon had offered to mediate.