The death of a South Korean defector creates tension between the Koreas – and shows the Kim regime’s fear of the coronavirus.
The recent inner-Korean border conflict is another sad chapter between the two neighboring countries, which have been separated by a mined demarcation line for almost seven decades. On Monday, according to the South Korean military, an official from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries left during a business trip on a patrol ship – just a few kilometers from North Korean waters. Apparently the man wanted to flee to Kim Jong Un’s kingdom.
There, however, he is said to have barely entered the country when North Korean soldiers surrounded the intruder. Intelligence information from Seoul suggests that after brief interrogation, he was shot dead and his body eventually doused with oil and burned.
Seoul’s presidential office called the killing a “crime against humanity”. North Korea must apologize for the incident and ensure that such tragedies do not recur.
The motives for fleeing the killed South Korean remain completely open. The actions of the North Korean military, however, can be conclusively fathomed: For several weeks, the army command of the US troops in South Korea has said that the Kim regime issued an order to shoot smugglers from China to prevent the coronavirus from being imported.
After all, the pathogen could wreak potentially devastating damage in the country, which has disastrous health care systems and widespread malnutrition. In addition, the most important military parade of the year is about to take place in Pyongyang on October 10th, which also offers a high risk of infection.
The Kim regime was practically the first country in the world to completely close its borders after the virus outbreak in Wuhan, China. A case two months ago also showed how panicked North Korea was reacting to the virus. At that time, a North Korean refugee who had lived in South Korea for three years also crossed the border to the north by sea.
A little later, the state media of the Kim regime claimed, contrary to all known evidence from Seoul, that the man would show Covid-19 symptoms. The government then quarantined the border town of Kaesong.
South Korean President Moon Jae In now faces a dilemma. Since taking office in 2017, the left-liberal politician has always extended his diplomatic hand to its northern brother state. Even after the rapprochement with Kim Jong Un had long since stalled again, the 67-year-old Moon continued to stick to his course. Neither the recently hostile rhetoric from Pyongyang nor increasing pressure from Washington changed Moon’s stance.
Through his spokesman, he now announced that the shooting of a South Korean citizen was “shocking” and “inexcusable”. However, Moon did not comment on specific countermeasures – much to the annoyance of the conservative opposition, which is calling for a tough course against Kim Jong Un.
A case from 2008 shows how much individual fates influence the relations of the two warring brother states. It happened in the idyllic Diamond Mountains near the border, where the Hyundai Group had built a holiday resort for South Koreans as part of the earlier inner-Korean “sunshine policy”.
A 53-year-old tourist is said to have walked through the cordoned-off military area while picking mushrooms – and was shot by a northern soldier.
The tragic death ensured that the rapprochement between the two states failed and was replaced by military threatening gestures for the next ten years.