A different look and feel . . .
Earlier this week, North Korea celebrated the 73rd anniversary of the country’s founding with a nighttime parade in the capital of Pyongyang. Leader Kim Jong Un watched from a balcony as paramilitary and public security forces marched in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square. Notable about the parade was what was missing – namely, the assortment of ballistic missiles that are normally featured in such events. Instead, the parade showcased rows of military personnel marching in orange hazmat suits and medical-grade masks, seemingly to emphasize the government’s efforts to keep people safe from the pandemic.
Pandemic-induced isolation endures . . .
Pyongyang’s decision to seal its borders after the COVID-19 outbreak last year has deepened the country’s isolation and sent its economy plummeting. In particular, closing the border with China, by far its largest trading partner, has likely exacerbated food shortages in the country. Adding to its isolation is the departure of diplomats, aid workers, business envoys, and other foreigners. In addition, earlier this week North Korea learned that it will be barred from participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing as a penalty for not having sent athletes to the recently concluded summer Games in Tokyo.
Dashed hopes for denuclearization . . .
The reactivation of an inter-Korean hotline in July sparked hope that stalled denuclearization talks would re-start. But Pyongyang stopped answering the hotline when South Korea and the United States began annual military exercises last month, an activity that Pyongyang warned could trigger a security crisis. And with the possibility that moderate President Moon Jae-in could be replaced with a conservative hardliner during South Korea’s elections in March, the window may be closing for improved North-South relations. Meanwhile, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi will arrive in Seoul on September 14 to hold talks with his South Korean counterpart, Chung Eui-yong, on the situation on the Korean Peninsula and regional and global issues. China has played a key role in efforts to press Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear program. Analysts will be watching closely for signals of Pyongyang’s willingness to restart denuclearization talks after the meeting.