North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was RECENTLY seen at FLOOD-DAMAGED areas of the RECLUSIVE country to OVERSEE RELIEF EFFORTS in the aftermath of torrential downpours that FLOODED thousands of homes and farmlands.
For more I have our North Korean affairs correspondent Hong Yoo in the studio.
Before we touch upon the flood damage up North let's talk a bit about the COVID-19 situation there.
I hear lockdowns have been lifted in the city of Gaeseong?
Yes Sunhee, the lockdown in Gaeseong was lifted on Thursday, three weeks since the city was completely sealed off.
The lockdown had been ordered after a North Korean defector from the South allegedly returned with symptoms of COVID-19.
The decision to lift the lockdown came during a politburo meeting, during which Kim Jong-un emphasized the importance of strengthening the North's virus containment measures.
Relevant prevention guidelines are broadcast around the clock, through its state-run Korean Central News Agency.
KCNA news clips showed checkpoints set up near borders and provincial boundaries, where vehicles are sterilized and drivers are checked for their temperature.
Like everywhere else in the world, people in North Korea are wearing masks and being asked to wash and sanitize their hands often.
The KCNA says North Korean medical personnel have been supplied with all the medical equipment they need, and have been trained to respond quickly to any suspected cases.
But the regime continues to remain tight-lipped on how many test kits they have and how many people have been tested so far.
Now as we mentioned North Korea is also dealing with the aftermath of recent floods.
How serious is the damage there?
Sunhee, heavy rainfall early this month destroyed 390 square kilometers of farmland and damaged 16,680 homes, as well as 630 public buildings.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said 22 people have died and 4 are still missing.
In response, many international aid groups and South Korea have expressed their willingness to support North Korea in its relief efforts.
Let's take a listen to what the Unification Ministry said regarding aid to North Korea:
"We will continue to promote humanitarian cooperation regardless of the political climate, in the event of a natural disaster like this latest flood. We are now analyzing the impact of the flood on North Korea."
But, the regime says it won't accept any foreign aid, over fears of COVID-19 entering its borders.
During a politburo meeting on Thursday, Kim Jong-un said the North will keep its borders shut and re-double efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
In the first week of August, North Korea got more than 850 millimeters of rain, almost as much as the annual rainfall of 960 millimeters that they see in a typical year.
So how is Kim Jong-un maneuvering himself politically amid these challenges?
Kim Jong un is portraying himself as a benevolent leader,…a leader that puts his people first above all else.
He even drove himself in an SUV to a flood-damaged area in rural North Korea, which was the first time he was ever seen behind the wheel of a car.
Experts say this is a calculated move to bolster his image as a leader who takes personal initiative to help his people in need.
Photos of Kim show people welcoming the arrival of Kim Jong-un as he gets off his car covered in mud.
Not only that, but Kim also ordered the release of special aid for the citizens of Gaeseong during its lockdown.
Over 550-thousand relief items in more than 30 categories including food were sent to Gaeseong while the city had been sealed off.
Kim Jong-un may be trying to appease the public, with the pandemic and international sanctions taking a heavy toll on North Korea's economy.
Plus, for the first time in two years, the regime is granting pardons for criminals starting from mid-September.
The regime said the government has the responsibility to take care of ALL of its citizens, and will take efforts to reform criminals and help them re-adjust to society.
I understand there was also a MINOR RE-SHUFFLE at the upper echelons of the North Korean regime last Thursday.
What can be gleaned from these new appointments?
Sunhee as you said, during the politburo meeting, North Korea appointed Worker's Party Vice Chairman Kim Tok-hun as the new Premier of the Cabinet and Ri Pyong-chol as a new politburo member.
Kim Tok-hun is known for being an economic expert and Ri Pyong-chol is known for his role in the regime's strategic weapons development.
There are concerns that Ri Pyong-chol's appointment could mean North Korea is planning to further its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
But experts say that's not necessarily the case.
Let's take a listen:
"Considering the current state of inter-Korean and North Korea-U.S. dialogue, the regime intends to strengthen the Worker's Party's power and control over the military by appointing Ri Pyong-chol as a politburo member, but it does not necessarily point to a new arms build-up."
Experts say that this restructuring to a 5-pronged leadership model from the former three, with Kim Jong-un , Pak Pong-ju , Choe Ryong-hae , Kim Tok-hun and Ri Pyong-chol , can be interpreted as an attempt to strengthen the Worker's Party's role in the management of state affairs.
Thank you for that coverage Yoo.
See you soon.