Asia Minute: North Korea: Beyond the Coronavirus

Feb 21, 2020

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been keeping a low profile in recent weeks. And while the region remains focused on the coronavirus, policymakers in Seoul and Washington remain mindful of developments in the north.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was not seen in public for more than three weeks after the outbreak of the coronavirus.

This past Saturday, he was on national television marking the birthday of his late father with a visit to a national mausoleum.

State media have not acknowledged any cases of the coronavirus in North Korea. Although this week, officials said the government has extended the quarantine period for anyone showing symptoms to 30 days.

While any news out of North Korea is impossible to independently confirm, officials in Seoul and Washington are also looking beyond the coronavirus — continuing to monitor military developments.

It’s been nearly a year since the United States and South Korea cancelled what had been annual large-scale exercises. At the time, a Pentagon statement said the move “reflected our desire to reduce tension and support our diplomatic efforts.”

North Korea’s year-end deadline for a new negotiating approach from the United States has come and gone without incident, although Kim’s regime ran 13 missile tests last year.

Last week, the head of the U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command warned North Korea may be preparing for more. General Terrence O’Shaughnessy told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that recent engine testing may point to plans for a more extensive event.