The Defence Minister of Japan said that Shinzo Abe's government believes that recent belligerence by North Korea could be explained by the spread of Coronavirus in the Kim Jong Un's country, poor health of the supreme leader and other economic factors.

During a press briefing at the Japanese Foreign Correspondents Club, Defense Minister Taro Kono said Japan, in conjunction with the U.S. and other nations, was actively exchanging information on North Korea's "strange" actions, noticed in recent times. He said it is believed that Pyongyang's recent escalations may be to divert the attention of North Korean people from "Kim Jong Un's health, or the bad harvest, or the bad economy."

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a grand military parade celebrating the 70th founding anniversary
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Reuters

North Korea's Moves Under Scrutiny

While explaining what the Japanese government came to know, Taro Kono said "We suspect, number one, that COVID-19 is spreading around North Korea as well, and Kim Jong Un is trying to... not [be] infected by COVID-19. So sometimes he doesn't come [out] in public."

As per the minister, secondly, Japan has some "suspicion" about North Korean leader's health, and "Thirdly, the harvest last year in North Korea wasn't quite good – bad, actually... The economy of North Korea is not doing well."

Even though the minister avoided direct questions about Kim Jong Un's current health condition, Taro Kono clarified that he was not allowed to discuss intelligence issues, "including if it is [an] intelligence issue or not." He attributed his view that the deadly Coronavirus was already inside the DPRK to public information.

Diverting Attention?

The minister said the Commander of the U.S. forces in South Korea also discussed the COVID-19 scenario in DPRK and he too believes that the Coronavirus is already spreading inside Kim Jong Un's country. Taro Kono said he personally agrees with his view and now "we just need to estimate how widely it is spreading."

The recent comments from Japan's defense minister came after weeks of escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula. On Wednesday, June 24 as per local media reports, the North Korean dictator called off plans for an unspecified "military action" against its neighbor South Korea at a high-level military meeting. However, the state-run media organizations carried no pictures of that meeting.

What About Japan?

Meanwhile, reports claimed that Japan is also beset with the same problem and was forced to disband a panel of medical experts advising Prime Minister Abe's cabinet on the country's response to COVID-19 after facing criticism for its lack of transparency and independence.

Reports revealed that the panel's independence from government influence has come under ciriticism and Japan's Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Wednesday that the panel would be disbanded and a new panel of experts would be formed with a broader range of specialists.

As per the early reports, in March the panel refrained from revealing that the virus could be transmitted from asymptomatic people, as the government asked it not to do so to avoid panic.

Takaji Wakita, the chief of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases and the leader of the panel told media on Wednesday that the Japanese government's request was not the only consideration when deciding whether to inform people about asymptomatic transmission in the public statement. He also added, "I don't remember accurately. There could have been such a remark. But that's not the only factor in deciding whether or not to put in the line."