What to make of Kim Yo Jong’s twisted COVID “revenge” threat against South Korea?

SEOUL – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s little sister Kim Yo Jong is threatening germ warfare threats in retaliation for balloon launches from South Korea, which she blames for spreading COVID-19 in the north.

Kim Yo Jong said in a speech broadcast on North Korean state television that after considering “various countermeasure plans, our countermeasure must be deadly retaliation.”

Her remark suggests that she and her brother are not only fed up with defectors from North Korea launching balloons from the South with anti-North propaganda, but are determined to respond in kind. The logical answer to their claim that the South is sending the dreaded disease to the North, it is feared, would be that North Korea is spreading disease to the South.

“If the enemy persists in such dangerous acts as fomenting virus infiltration into our republic,” she is quoted as saying by Pyongyang’s Korea Central News Agency, “we will respond by not only eradicating the virus, but also wiping out the south.” (sic) Korean authorities.”

The fact that North Korean television showed Kim Yo Jong speaking was a sure sign of the seriousness of the message. In the past, when she expressed her brother’s views more boldly than he might have wanted to do publicly, she was quoted in reports, not live on television.

Kim Yo Jong, whose only title is vice chief of the Labor Party Central Committee, is at or near the top of the regime’s hierarchy. Were the burly Kim Jong Un, 38, whose health is always in question, to die or become incapacitated, 34-year-old Yo Jong would inevitably be a leading possibility to succeed him.

None of this means she will take over anytime soon or has the power to do anything Kim Jong Un has not ordered. She was addressing a meeting convened by the party’s Central Committee, at which he “solemnly declared victory in the maximum emergency anti-epidemic campaign to eradicate the novel coronavirus.”

North Korean television quoted her as saying her brother led the anti-virus campaign, even though he himself had the virus. “He was battling a fever but couldn’t rest because he was worried about people,” she was quoted as saying.

Kim Yo Jong’s call for revenge against the South was a reminder that North Korea has focused on both biological and chemical warfare as weapons of mass destruction, in addition to the nuclear program it says it needs for self-defense.

“Kim Yo Jong’s threats are not empty claims.”

“The North has the ability to produce traditional infectious biological warfare agents or toxins and biological weapons,” according to a study done two years ago by the Federation of American Scientists. “Should North Korea decide to use biological weapons, it could likely use agents such as anthrax, plague or yellow fever against the water and food supplies in the South’s hinterland.”

However, Kim Yo Jong may have to wait before the North can actually engage in biological warfare. Washington’s nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative has estimated that North Korea “possesses an array of pathogen samples that could be weaponized and the technical capability to do so, rather than employing ready-to-use biological weapons.”

Still, “Kim Yo Jong’s threats are not empty claims,” ​​Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international relations at Ewha University in Seoul, told The Daily Beast. However, he believed that before resorting to weapons of mass destruction, the North Koreans “could shoot at leaflet balloons and even attempt to shell what they believe to be launch sites in South Korea.”

Kim Yo Jong’s claims “about the coronavirus entering the country via the southern border,” he said, “relate more to domestic political propaganda than military escalation.”

David Maxwell, a retired Army Colonel now with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, told The Daily Beast “a biological warfare attack is possible,” but asked, “For what purpose?”

The North “certainly would not claim it as it could lead to retaliation,” he said. While this “should never be disregarded,” he argued, “I don’t see how a biological attack would aid the regime’s current goals.”

Steve Tharpe, a retired US Army officer here, told The Daily Beast that “biological warfare agents are much more difficult to control than nuclear weapons and chemical warfare agents” and “require great care in employment to avoid unintended harm to the North Korean army and/or to avoid population. ”

In fact, it’s more likely that North Korea will first show its anger at the leaflets by conducting a seventh underground nuclear test — its first since September 2017.

“When North Korea conducts its next nuclear test, they will say in their publications that it is necessary to protect themselves from the South’s aggressive and provocative behavior,” Bruce Bechtol, author of numerous books and articles on North Korea’s military leadership, told The Daily Beast. The North would claim the test was “purely a necessary defensive measure to enhance its ‘deterrence'”.

Evans Revere, a senior retired US diplomat who specializes in North Korean affairs, told The Daily Beast that the North “has stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons” but carried out Kim Yo Jong’s “threats to the usual bluster Pyongyang” back.

Still, “Experience also tells us that we must be vigilant in case the North Koreans decide to do something stupid.”

Bruce Bennett, Korea expert at RAND, doubted that Kim Yo Jong “knows much about biological weapons”. She needed to know, he said, “that the US threat to eliminate the North Korean regime if it uses nuclear weapons could be expanded to include eliminating the North Korean regime if it uses biological weapons.”

However, Kim Yo Jong may lose patience.

“We can no longer ignore the steady influx of garbage from South Korea,” she said. The fact that COVID-19 was first reported near the border between the two Koreas “urged us to suspect the despicable in South Korea,” she explained. “It’s natural for us to see strange objects as carriers of the vicious pandemic disease.”

South Korea bans defectors from launching the balloons over the North under a law enacted when the liberal Moon Jae-in was president, but the authorities haven’t since the inauguration of Moon’s successor, the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol much enforced. in May.

The unification ministry, which is responsible for South Korea’s dealings with the North, said Kim Yo Jong’s claims were not only “baseless” but “immensely rude and threatening”. The South, a spokesman said, is “ready for all possibilities.”

https://www.thedailybeast.com/what-to-make-of-kim-yo-jongs-twisted-covid-revenge-threat-against-south-korea?source=articles&via=rss What to make of Kim Yo Jong’s twisted COVID “revenge” threat against South Korea?

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