Protesters hold up banners during a rally to denounce policies of the United States on North Korea as they wait for the arrival of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun in front of Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. Biegun is in Seoul for talks on North Korea and other issues. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

North Korean leader’s sister slams South Korea for questioning virus-free claim

North Korean leader’s sister slams South Korea for questioning virus-free claim

SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s influential sister lambasted South Korea’s foreign minister on Wednesday for questioning the North’s claim to be coronavirus free and warned of possible consequences.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said over the weekend that it is hard to believe North Korea’s claim that it has had no virus outbreak. She added that the North has not responded to a South Korean offer of co-operation in jointly tackling the pandemic.

Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s sister, responded in a statement carried by state media.

“It can be seen from the reckless remarks made by her without any consideration of the consequences that she is too eager to further chill the frozen relations between North and South Korea,” Kim said.

“Her real intention is very clear. We will never forget her words and she might have to pay dearly for it,” she said.

The remarks show how sensitive North Korea is to what it considers any outside attempt to tarnish its image as it steps up its efforts to guard against the pandemic and the economic fallout.

Despite its zero-virus case claim, North Korea’s state media have repeatedly said there is a “maximum emergency” anti-epidemic campaign in which it has closed its international borders, flown out diplomats and isolated residents with suspected symptoms.

North Korea’s border closure with China, its biggest trading partner, is wrecking its already fragile economy. The country has admitted it is facing “multiple crises” due to the pandemic, a spate of natural disasters last summer and persistent U.S.-led sanctions imposed over its nuclear program.

Experts have said a major disease outbreak in North Korea could cause a humanitarian disaster because of its broken healthcare system.

Kang, the South Korean foreign minister, told a forum in Bahrain on Saturday that the pandemic had “made North Korea more North Korea — that is, more closed, very top-down decision-making process where there is very little debate on their measures in dealing with COVID-19.”

“They still say they do not have any cases, which is hard to believe,” Kang said. “So, all signs are the regime is very intensely focused on controlling the disease that they say they do not have.”

Also this week, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, the top U.S. official on North Korea, is in Seoul for talks on North Korea and other issues.

In Washington, State Department spokesperson Cale Brown said Biegun met Wednesday with First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun and Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Lee Do-hoon.

Biegun “reaffirmed U.S. support for inter-Korean co-operation, and continued U.S. readiness to engage in meaningful dialogue with (North Korea) in the pursuit of complete denuclearization,” Brown said in a statement.

South Korea’s spy agency recently told lawmakers that Kim Jong Un had ordered diplomats overseas to refrain from any acts that could provoke Washington because he is worried about President-elect Joe Biden’s expected new approach toward North Korea.

Some observers say North Korea could still do something provocative to try to draw Biden’s attention and create the need to restart stalled nuclear talks in which it could seek concessions.

___

Associated Press writer Matt Lee in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

Hyung-Jin Kim, The Associated Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE - This file photo provided by Leonid Volkov and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, right, are seen in Germany in a Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, handout photo published to social media. The chief of staff to the imprisoned Russian president critic Alexei Navalny is calling on Ottawa to impose new sanctions on who he descripted as “Vladimir Putin’s oligarchs.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, Leonid Volkov
Canada must sanction Vladimir Putin’s oligarchs: Alexei Navalny’s chief of staff

Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany

Ronald Smith, a Canadian on death row in the United States. is shown at the state prison in Deer Lodge, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland
Alberta Health Services locked the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror on Wednesday morning after owner Christopher Scott refused to comply with health orders. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)
UPDATED: AHS shuts down Whistle Stop Cafe for defying health orders

Justice minister promises to get tough with those ignoring public health orders

This Nov. 22, 2015 file photo shows Justin Bieber at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles. Bieber’s world tour is facing another setback as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. The Stratford, Ont.-raised pop singer is pushing dozens of tour dates including stops in three Canadian cities.	THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File
Justin Bieber postpones Canadian summer tour dates until 2022

52-date world tour will now kick off Feb. 18, 2022

LtE bug
Letter: Security company can help with shelter

Why don’t we leave Safe Harbour temporary shelter where it is and… Continue reading

LtE bug
Letter: Good job on K-6 curriculum

Many are questioning the quality of the draft K-6 curriculum. It amazes… Continue reading

Treena Mielke
COVID becomes all too real when someone you love is ‘positive’

The third wave of the pandemic is hitting us hard. It is… Continue reading

Wizards beat Raptors in OT, Toronto playoff bid nearly over

Wizards beat Raptors in OT, Toronto playoff bid nearly over

Toronto Blue Jays' Teoscar Hernandez (37) hits a single to drive in two runs against the Oakland Athletics during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Grichuk drives in 5, Jays beat A’s 10-4 for series split

Grichuk drives in 5, Jays beat A’s 10-4 for series split

Most Read