‘Isolation and control are not enough’: South Korea offers covid-19 vaccines to help the North

  • South Korea says it will provide aid to North Korea.
  • The North revealed its first outbreak of Covid-19.
  • Talks between Covax and North Korea have stalled.

North Korea is facing its first confirmed outbreak of Covid-19 without a known vaccine program, prompting new calls for the government to accept aid that could save lives, help protect its battered economy and possibly lead to a diplomatic opening.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s office said on Friday that he intends to help the North, including by providing vaccines, and that specific measures will be discussed with Pyongyang.

READ | North Korea reports first Covid cases, Kim orders nationwide lockdown

North Korea is not known to have imported or administered Covid-19 vaccines, and is one of only two countries that have not started a vaccination campaign.

Until Thursday’s reports from the state news agency KCNA, a confirmed case of the disease had never been reported.

His unexpected admission that infections were “exploding” across the country led some observers to hope that Pyongyang would soon accept the vaccines.

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Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul, said: “Revealing the outbreak through KCNA, which is a main channel for external communications, indicates that North Korea could seek support for the vaccine. “.

Yang added:

Isolation and control are not enough to overcome the crisis without vaccines.

Others said it is unclear whether North Korea’s stance is softening and that there are many obstacles with geopolitical implications.

politicization of aid

Some analysts argue that “vaccine diplomacy” with North Korea could ease tensions in other areas, such as the country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

“If inter-Korean cooperation occurs, it would help defuse military tension and reopen talks, and potentially lead to humanitarian exchanges such as a reunion of separated families,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Institute’s North Korea studies center. Sejong in South Korea.

But the politicization of aid may also be one of the main reasons North Korea has been hesitant to agree.

Pyongyang is more likely to contact its allies in Beijing first, Cheong said, although Pyongyang has rejected an earlier offer of three million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech.

He said:

If the situation becomes more uncontrollable, it will be difficult to refuse Western support.

Pyongyang authorities appeared to suspect they would only receive a limited number of vaccines and then be under pressure to accept more, an independent UN human rights investigator said in February.

South Korean officials have said North Korea did not want injections of British-Swedish Sinovac or Astrazeneca, preferring instead American-made Moderna and Pfizer, and that talks with global vaccine-sharing scheme Covax had stalled because the North refused to accept compensation. Clauses relating to secondary effects.

“But that was before the outbreak, and now they are in an emergency,” Kwon Young-se, South Korea’s candidate to be the unification minister responsible for inter-Korean relations, said at a parliamentary confirmation hearing on Thursday.

If North Korea agrees, the international vaccine exchange program Covax can provide doses to enable the country to meet international immunization targets, said a spokesman for Gavi, the charity that helps run the programme.

Thae Young-ho, a former North Korean diplomat who is now a South Korean lawmaker, called on Yoon to seek temporary sanctions waivers during his upcoming summit with US President Joe Biden to allow fuel and power generators to be shipped to the North.

“Everyone talks about supporting vaccines, but North Korea doesn’t have the infrastructure to keep vaccines in cold storage or the energy to maintain the system,” he said.

He added:

It is like giving rice to a home that has no kitchen or firewood.

Washington said Thursday that it supports delivering aid to North Korea, but had no current plans to share vaccines.

“We urge the DPRK to work with the international community to facilitate rapid vaccination of its population,” a State Department spokesman told Reuters, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

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