North Korea slogged through 2020 in an effort to maintain public health and state power. Kim Jong Un’s hopes for an economic breakthrough were dashed by the COVID-19 outbreak in neighboring China, which posed an existential threat given the DPRK’s limited healthcare resources. Although swift sealing of borders helped prevent a crisis, keeping the country on national quarantine took a heavy toll. Information about internal developments was scarce this year, as demonstrated by the global media’s frenzied speculation in the spring that Kim Jong Un had died. Kim did scale down his public appearances, but convened frequent sessions of the ruling Politburo, often to complain about Party failings, and his sister Kim Yo Jong elevated her profile with tough messages for Seoul and Washington. North Korea remained inwardly focused to the end of the year, rebuffing South Korean entreaties at cooperation and ignoring the presidential election in the United States.
North Korea in 2020: In Search of Health and Power
John Delury is Professor in the Graduate School of International Studies, Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea. The author is grateful to Sebastien Berger, Bob Carlin, Sokeel Park, Kathi Zellweger, CSIS Washington Research Consortium on Korea teammates, and colleagues who wish to remain anonymous for input and critique. This work was supported by the Laboratory Program for Korean Studies through the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the Korean Studies Promotion Service of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2016-LAB-2250001). Email: <email@example.com>.
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John Delury; North Korea in 2020: In Search of Health and Power. Asian Survey 1 February 2021; 61 (1): 74–82. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/as.2021.61.1.74
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