North Korea Update: 3 May, 2020

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This has been a busy weekend on the Korean Peninsula. On Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his first public appearance in nearly a month, ending rumors and wide speculation that suggested the Supreme Leader had died as the result of a cardiovascular procedure early in April. Kim’s appearance at the Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory north of Pyongyang has answered many questions, however, it is bound to create a new wave of them as well. Most of these will be about whether or not Kim recently had surgery, and what his present health condition is. The truth of the matter is that very few facts have escaped from North Korea aside from Kim being alive. On the subject of health, how North Korea is holding up in the midst of a global pandemic is unknown. Although the images, and video released on Friday show a relatively normal scene at Sunchon, there is growing concern that North Korea could very well be dealing with thousands of COVID-19 cases behind the propaganda wall put up by state media.

As if these issues weren’t enough to deal with, on Sunday North and South Korean troops exchanged small arms fire along the DMZ. There were no casualties or damage reported on either side. This was the first incident where the two sides exchanged fire since 2017. At the moment Sunday’s brief exchange appears to have been the result of an accident. Its timing though, provides plenty of food for the imagination. Some observers have openly wondered if there is indeed a tie-in between the shooting on the DMZ, and Kim Jong Un resurfacing.

Probably not. Kim Jong Un would probably prefer a more spectacular act of symbolism to show the world he remains in control of North Korea’s military. A ballistic missile test, or barrage of short-range rockets being fired into the waters off of the coast would fit the bill. If either one of those take place in the coming week, it will most likely be a direct message from Kim showing he has retained the control and loyalty of his armed forces.

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