SEOUL, South Korea (AFP) North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the execution of at least two people, banned fishing at sea and locked down the capital Pyongyang, as part of frantic efforts to protect against the coronavirus and economic damage, the Korean spy agency told lawmakers Friday.
The Kim government has also ordered diplomats abroad to refrain from any actions that could provoke the United States because it is concerned about the expected new approach of President-elect Joe Biden toward North Korea, lawmakers told reporters after attending a special briefing by the National Intelligence Service.
One lawmaker, Ha Tae-kyung, quoted the National Intelligence Agency as saying that Kim is showing “excessive anger” and taking “irrational measures” about the epidemic and its economic impact.
Ha said the National Intelligence Service told lawmakers that North Korea executed a high-ranking cashier in Pyongyang last month after holding the person responsible for the exchange rate drop. The National Intelligence Agency was quoted as saying that North Korea also executed a key official in August for violating government regulations restricting goods brought in from abroad. The two people were not identified by name.
North Korea has also banned fishing and the production of salt at sea to prevent seawater from contracting the virus, the National Intelligence Agency told lawmakers.
North Korea recently placed Pyongyang and North Jagang Province on lockdown due to virus concerns. Earlier this month, lockdown measures were imposed in other areas as officials found unauthorized goods and foreign currencies brought in, it quoted the National Intelligence Service as saying.
The agency said that North Korea has also made a failed hacking attempt on at least one South Korean pharmaceutical company that was trying to develop a vaccine for the Coronavirus.
The agency has a mixed record in confirming developments in North Korea, one of the world’s most secretive countries. The National Intelligence Agency said it could not immediately confirm the deputies’ accounts.
North Korea has confirmed that it has not found a single case of coronavirus on its soil, a claim that outside experts are opposed, although it says it is making all-out efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. The outbreak could have dire consequences as the health care system in the north remains disrupted and suffers from a chronic shortage of medical supplies.
The epidemic forced North Korea to close its borders with China, its largest trading partner and aid donor, in January. The closure, along with a series of natural disasters during the summer, dealt a heavy blow to the northern economy, which was subject to US-led sanctions.
North Korea’s total trade with China in the first ten months of this year was $ 530 million, about 25% of the corresponding figure last year. Ha quoted the shekel as saying that the price of sugar and spices had jumped four times.
North Korean watchdog groups in Seoul said the North Korean won’s exchange rate against the dollar had recently decreased dramatically because people found few places to use foreign currencies after smuggling was largely cut off after the border with China closed.
According to the press conference issued by the National Intelligence Agency, North Korea has ordered diplomatic missions abroad not to provoke the United States, warning its ambassadors of the consequences if their comments or actions related to the United States cause any problems in relations with Washington.
The North Korean government has remained silent about Biden’s election victory over President Donald Trump, with whom Kim held three summits in 2018-2019 over North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. While diplomacy eventually stalled, the meetings helped Kim and Trump build personal relationships and stem the insults and threats of destruction they had previously exchanged.
Representative Kim Byung-ki cited saying that North Korea is showing concern that its friendly relations with Trump have become useless and it has to start from scratch in dealing with the incoming Biden administration.
Experts are debating whether North Korea will soon resume major missile tests in an effort to get Biden’s attention. During previous government changes in the United States, North Korea often fired large arms in an effort to increase its influence in negotiations with a new U.S. administration.
NIS expects North Korea to hold a military parade ahead of the ruling party convention in January in a show of force with Biden’s inauguration. North Korea is also likely to use the Labor Party conference to lay out its basic policies toward the United States, Kim Byung-Ki quoted the National Intelligence Institute as saying.
Kim Jong Un said the conference, the first of its kind in four years, will set new goals for the country over the next five years. In an unusual admission of its policy failures in August, the Workers’ Party said that North Korea’s economy had not improved due to severe internal and external barriers and that its previous development goals had been seriously delayed.
This story was corrected to show that North Korea closed its border with China in January, not June.