In a rare display of urgency, the North Korean leader has held his third high-level political conference in as many weeks, raising the alarm about the nation’s coronavirus response and a typhoon forecast to hit the country early on Thursday.
- Kim Jong-un lamented “defects” in North Korea’s coronavirus response
- He called for preparations for a typhoon set to hit North Korea
- A number of Western media outlets had reported claims Mr Kim was in a coma
During an enlarged meeting of the Politburo of the ruling Workers’ Party on Tuesday, Kim Jong-un lamented unspecified “defects” and “shortcomings” in the country’s campaign against COVID-19 and urged they be corrected swiftly, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
Mr Kim also called for thorough preparations to minimise damage from Typhoon Bavi.
The storm is set to arrive just weeks after torrential rains caused flooding and massive damage to homes and crops, inflicting further pain to an economy ravaged by US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and border closures amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Kim set tasks for the party and public services at every level, saying it was important to prevent casualties and minimise crop damage caused by the typhoon, KCNA reported.
As of Wednesday morning (local time), Typhoon Bavi was near the South Korean island of Jeju and was on course to hit the north-west coast of the Korean Peninsula about dawn on Thursday.
South Korea’s weather agency said it had a maximum wind speed of 155 kilometres per hour and was predicted to be one of the strongest to hit the peninsula this year.
In another ruling party meeting last week, Mr Kim admitted the country’s economy had not improved as he had hoped.
During that meeting, the ruling party scheduled a rare congress in January to set development goals for the next five years.
Experts say the coronavirus pandemic has derailed some of Mr Kim’s major economic goals.
Pyongyang has imposed a lockdown that has significantly reduced it trade with China — its major ally and economic lifeline — and likely hampered its ability to mobilise its workforce.
Appearance follows speculation about Kim’s health
Mr Kim’s appearance at the meeting follows speculation about his health.
A former aide to South Korea’s late president Kim Dae-jung last week posted to Facebook that Mr Kim was in a coma, which was then reported in some major Western news outlets.
“I assess him to be in a coma, but his life has not ended,” Chang Song-min was quoted as saying.
Mr Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, has made a number of appearances alongside the North’s leader, furthering speculation he is ill.
South Korea’s spy agency last week said Mr Kim had delegated some of his powers to a select group of senior officials, including his sister, who is now chiefly involved in shaping policies toward Washington and Seoul.
South Korean MP Ha Tae-keung said officials from the National Intelligence Service, which has a mixed track record in reading developments in North Korea’s secretive ruling elite, insisted Mr Kim’s rule over his country remained absolute.
There were no signs Mr Kim was experiencing health problems or was grooming his sister as his successor, Mr Ha paraphrased intelligence officials as saying.
The North has yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19, but outsiders have widely doubted its claim to be virus free.
Mr Kim had this month lifted a three-week lockdown in the city of Kaesong near the border with South Korea after a suspected case of coronavirus there.
It later told the World Health Organization the person’s test results were inconclusive.