N. Korea seems to be using virus crisis to strengthen party control: experts

SEOUL, June 21 (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to be using its ongoing battle against COVID-19 to tighten Kim Jong-un's grip on power based on the ruling Workers' Party, experts said Tuesday during a forum.

"I think North Korea seems to be using the COVID outbreak to strengthen party control across the board," Rachel Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst for the Vienna-based Open Nuclear Network, said at the online seminar co-hosted by the Korea Institute for National Unification and the George Washington University's Institute for Korean Studies. "During the many meetings Kim Jong-un presided over in the wake of the COVID outbreak, he repeatedly emphasized unconditionally obeying the party."

Following its admission of a COVID-19 outbreak last month, the North has convened a series of key party meetings that have stressed strengthening discipline within the party.

Ken Gause, the research program director of the U.S.-based Center for Naval Analyses, noted that the secretive North has made public its own daily count of suspected coronavirus cases.

"We've gotten used to a regime that reveals a little, that admits nothing, especially anything that can cast blame or vulnerability on the leadership," he said. "That went out the window when it came to COVID."

He said Pyongyang seems to be seeking to tell its people that they are being protected from the virus by the Kim regime.

On May 12, North Korea disclosed its first COVID-19 case after claiming to be free of the virus for over two years.

Source: Yonhap News Agency