N Korea sacrifices health at altar of ‘nationalism’ - GulfToday

N Korea sacrifices health at altar of ‘nationalism’

Kim Jong Un

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un speaks during an awards ceremony for officials. File photo

At a time when the world is beefing up precautionary measures over the pandemic, North Korea seems to be going in the reverse direction. It held a massive military parade and public rally to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the country’s ruling party.

The country’s leader Kim Jong Un warned that his country would “fully mobilise” its nuclear force if threatened even as he unveiled what appeared to be a new “monster” intercontinental ballistic missile, shown on a transporter vehicle with 11 axles, which would be one of the largest road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in the world if it becomes operational.

On the surface it would appear to be a burst of nationalistic fervour, but is actually a foolhardy move, as the health of countless citizens who gathered at the event is at stake.

What is quite odd is the timing of the event. The military parade at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square was held in the early hours of Saturday.

This would sound quite weird for many, but with an eccentric leader at the helm anything is possible. The dark pre-dawn hours were chosen because they would seemingly protect sensitive information about crucial weapons that were rolled out or creating spectacles through the use of lights.

Authoritarian North Korea is keen about such anniversaries, which are nothing but public displays of pomp and grandeur, and this week’s festivities were earmarked for years in advance as a major event to glorify Kim Jong Un’s achievements as leader.

But there hasn’t been much to celebrate lately as Kim struggles to keep afloat an economy crippled by years of stringent US-led sanctions over his nuclear programme. Border closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic and devastating summer floods and typhoons have only added to the woes, which are likely to worsen chronic food shortages.

The problems, intensified by North Korea’s depleting foreign currency reserves, are possibly setting conditions for a “perfect storm” that shocks food prices and exchange rates and triggers economic panic in the coming months.

That would compound the political burden on Kim, who during a political conference in August showed unusual candour by acknowledging that the economy was not on song, that his economic plans were not panning out.

The citizens seemingly are comfortable with his reign. Masked citizens earlier on Saturday lined up to lay flowers at the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the father of the current ruler, at Pyongyang’s Mansu Hill.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said residents in Kaesong and other regions who had lost their homes to recent natural disasters marked the party anniversary by moving into newly built houses and that they praised Kim Jong Un for looking after them as “their father.”.

This year’s anniversary comes amid deadlocked nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration and deepening economic woes that analysts say are shaping up as one of the biggest tests of Kim’s leadership since he took power in 2011.

Many analysts believe North Korea will avoid serious negotiations or provocations before the US presidential election in November, as a change in US administrations could force the country to rejig its approach toward Washington and Seoul.

As far as the coronavirus is concerned, North Korea on Tuesday called on the world’s governments to “display effective leadership” in the fight against the pandemic. It said its own measures against COVID-19 were  “preemptive, timely and strong,” ensuring it had the threat “under safe and stable control.”

Kim Song, the country’s UN ambassador, said a tightly administered anti-pandemic effort in his nation had been working.

At a time when the pandemic has hit thousands in Europe and affected millions in countries such as India, this piece of propaganda seems hard to swallow.

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