Theatricality and deception
For months, North Korea maintained that it had no COVID-19 outbreaks within its borders. For months, rumours and good sense said otherwise. For months, North Korea went about its usual set activities. They made provocations, insulted various foreign leaders and made ready for acts of aggression against their many 'enemies'. They even shut down the landline that is supposed to be the final line of communication between the two Koreas. As North Korea went about its routine political posturing, conspiracy theories abounded regarding the possible state of the outbreak in North Korea, whether the ruling party was 'hiding' the patients or willfully ignoring them. The North Korean media has maintained that the nation had zero Coronavirus victims and that they had succeeded with scientific and pre-emptive actions such as inspections and quarantines. What limited sources exist regarding the reclusive nation agree that North Korea called for an early closing of their national borders as compared to much of the world. North Korea also quarantined many foreigners in its capital in January. Certain sources had also reported that several thousand citizens had been quarantined around this point. Still, given the scale of the economic interaction between North Korea, South Korea and China, any claims of perfect containment are extremely unlikely. Regardless of the many unconfirmed reports about cases in the country, Kim Jong-un recently declared that North Korea's fight against the virus had been exemplary in its achievement and discipline. He wished to portray the image of the Party Central Committee being in full control of the situation, Clearly, they were not in complete control the situation as evidenced by North Korea announcing its first suspected case of the Coronavirus on Sunday.
The person in question has been identified by the state media as an individual who had escaped to South Korea years ago and had recently illegally re-entered North Korea through the border city of Kaesong. The city itself has now been closed to entry and exit with quarantine measures already in place. Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un had apparently called an emergency party meeting to vent his anger. Kim lambasted party officials on slackening their vigil of the past six months and vowed to launch an investigation that would punish the ones who were responsible for this lapse.
As with all North Korean proclamations, there is likely more to the situation than meets the eye. But it is also hard to separate from fiction in matters regarding North Korea. Just this year, rumours began circulating which stated that the North Korean dictator had died and that the nation was in the midst of a power struggle behind closed borders. Kim's long spell of absence from the public eye only fed the rumours and even his reappearance months later only fuelled the fire with conspiracy theories regarding signs that the 'new' Kim was a double.
What is more likely in this deliberately confusing affair is the idea that North Korea is looking for a way out of the hole it dug itself. The country has made its Coronavirus-free state a point of pride and maintained the image behind closed doors. It is possible now that the limit of keeping up this charade has been reached and that North Korea actually needs a helping hand now. As they cannot simply admit to such lapses, a more elaborate story is required that also manages to vilify the South Koreans in the process of absolving the ruling elites of North Korea of any blame. This is just one possibility. There are many-many others. After all, in the land of unicorns and other such myths, anything is possible.