As of today there are over 2000 deaths as a result of the deadly Cov-19/Coronavirus pandemic that allegedly originated in a food market in Wuhan. The sheer speed of the spread of the virus, and its deadly impact has led to many countries either closing their borders to China, cancelling flights, or even flatly refusing entry to Chinese nationals (not to mention the intense racism many Asians living abroad are now facing). This is obviously having a huge impact on the world economically, but in particular East Asia, and North Korea.
The DPRK (North Korea) in many respects were the first country to take any action on the coronavirus/cov-19 by first stopping all tourism into the country, putting returnees into quarantine for 14 days (now 30), and then fully shutting all borders (link to YPT article).
Officially the DPRK has had not coronavirus infections, something the media on their typical stance to the DPRK find hard to understand (although Laos another bordering country also reports no infections too). There have (of course) been reports to the contrary, with the Daily NK reporting 5 “unconfirmed deaths” in the border city of Sinuiju.
Now, whilst there is no reason not to to disbelieve the North Korean government on its reporting on the coronavirus, in some respects it is not important if they have had any infections, or not. The salient point here is that their proximity to China makes them extremely susceptible to coronavirus, and that whether we like it, or not their economy relies on trade with China.
What would help North Korea, inter-Korean ties, and the wider region would be sanctions relief, but alas this is unlikely to occur any time soon.
The Chinese government have been pulled from pilar to post in their handling of coronavirus, being accused almost simultaneously with either acting too slow, or doing too much, in a very damned if you do, damned if you don’t type scenario.
All this whilst the west, still largely unaffected by the virus continues to lambast China whilst flexing its authority in the region.
Sanctions relief could help a lot of people going through poverty, whilst also offering stimulus to various suffering regional economies, with an end result perhaps being a North Korean government more open to negotiations.
Sadly, and while this makes complete sense (to me at least), do not expect to see anything like this happening soon. Since when has the health of people ever outranked geopolitics? Even during a pandemic…