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NK meets on typhoon, coronavirus responses

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (KCNA-Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (KCNA-Yonhap)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un convened a politburo meeting of the ruling Worker’s Party on Tuesday to discuss measures in response to Typhoon Bavi and the coronavirus outbreak, the North‘s Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday.

“It is imperative to minimize casualties and crop damage. A good harvest depends on it,” Kim was quoted as saying at the meeting, urging aides to keep people informed of the latest on Typhoon Bavi, which is set to hit the country Wednesday and Thursday.

Kim was also shown instructing the party to root out “holes” in coronavirus countermeasures and maintain a robust antivirus system free of those deficiencies.

The communist regime has already seen crop damage when its farmlands were flooded by recent heavy rains, in another blow to the cash-strapped regime grappling with an economy battered by international sanctions.

The floods and COVID-19 outbreak are largely seen as aggravating the food crisis there, where 3 in 5 residents, or 15.3 million people, are estimated to face undernutrition this year, according to the US Agriculture Department.

Experts said the North is so invested in dealing with its domestic agenda as to be less able to engage the US or South Korea for sanctions relief.

“There could be some dissatisfaction with the regime, when the economy is impacting people,” Mark Fitzpatrick, associate fellow of the International Institute of for Strategic Studies, told Voice of America.

He added, “It’s a continuation of their belief that the ball is on US court and it’s up to US to make a significant concession in order to resume a negotiation,” he said, referring to the stalled talks on Pyongyang’s denuclearization in exchange for sanctions relief from Washington.

Ken Gause, a senior foreign leadership analyst at US analysis group CNA, told VOA that the North’s leader Kim would wait and see how the US presidential race in November turns out.

Kim announced he would open a party congress in January next year to set a five-year economic initiative to better lives, in a move seen as reflecting preparations for new plans in response to a new American president sworn in around that time.

But some experts expect Pyongyang to make a move around the time it celebrates the anniversary of the ruling party on Oct. 10.

“I think that the Oct. 10 celebration, I think that it is the next big event to really watch and (see) what they do,” David Maxwell, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told VOA.

Even so, Pyongyang is unlikely to forge ahead with a reckless provocation that could play to its disadvantage, at least for the time being, according to most experts.

By Choi Si-young (