Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong Un.

  • Kim Jong Un blasted his top officials on Tuesday for their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • North Korea has continued to report that it has zero coronavirus cases within its borders.
  • Kim is likely trying to redirect blame for North Korea's problems away from himself, an expert told Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has blamed top officials for allowing the country to suffer "grave consequences" from the Covid-19 pandemic, reported state media Korean Central News Agency - though he was unclear what those grave consequences were.

At a politburo meeting on Tuesday, he said that senior cadres of his ruling party had neglected key decisions in North Korea's coronavirus defense and created a "great crisis" for its people, said KCNA.

He blasted the "chronic irresponsibility and incompetence" of the officials, saying they brought "tremendous harm" to the country.

His comments are a rare official acknowledgment of potential failure in North Korea's battle against Covid-19. The dictatorship has long maintained that there are no coronavirus cases within its borders, though experts are skeptical.

North Korea said last July that it declared a state of emergency after a person, whom state media said was a South Korea defector, entered its borders with Covid-19 symptoms. But it was unclear if the person was actually tested, and the country has been silent about the case ever since, continuing to report zero cases.

Kim's speech on Tuesday was vague about his mentioned crisis and did not any give further details, though KCNA said that he had replaced his cadre's ranks with more "select ones."

This admittance by Kim indicates that North Korea is struggling with Covid-19, North Korean defector and researcher Ahn Chan-il told AFP.

"The fact that the politburo discussed this, and that the KCNA reported about it, signals Pyongyang is probably in need of international aid," he said.

Sean King, a research and affairs analyst with Park Strategies, told Insider that Kim's comments are likely a part of a larger ploy to redirect blame for North Korea's difficulties away from himself.

"Whether it's the virus creeping into North Korea, whether it's a food shortage, continued isolation... Kim is trying to put distance between himself and whatever problems the people are experiencing, and then position himself to be on their side," he said.

Earlier this month, Kim sounded the alarm on a food shortage crisis in North Korea, and state media then reported that the nation was worried because their leader looked "emaciated."

"They're trying to show that he sympathizes with them having less food. So he's going to tighten his belt just like everyone else," said King. "Every message you see in state media is for a reason."

North Korea's Covid-19 blockade has strained the nation's economy.

Already one of the world's most isolated countries, North Korea shut its borders last January while concern of Covid-19 brewed worldwide. Its trade with China, which it relies heavily upon, dropped 76% year-over-year in 2020, South Korean news outlets reported.

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