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North Korea upped its aggressive stance towards South Korea and the rest of the world earlier this month. After hundreds of thousands of leaflets carrying anti-Kim Jong-un propaganda entered the country, the North’s administration went into meltdown. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, who in recent years was tipped to be the lesser dictatorial figure compared to her brother, quickly branded those who sent the leaflets as “human scum” and called the South “the enemy”.
Almost immediately after the North cut a telecommunications line that had run between Pyongyang and Seoul since 2018.
It was initially erected to ease tensions, with daily phone calls between the two cities having become protocol.
This was severed, as well as the blowing up of a joint liaison office with the South in the border city of Kaesong.
Earlier this week, however, the North changed tack and said it would suspend “military action” having taken the “prevailing situation” into consideration.
Many said the momentary aggression was intended to gain attention and make wiggle room for further diplomatic concessions from the South and the US.
Others maintain that the stint was intended to take attention off Kim’s being dead.
Yesterday, yet more rumours about the leader’s health surfaced after Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Kono, said during a briefing at the Japanese Foreign Correspondents Club that Kim may have succumbed to COVID-19.
He said: “Recent movement in North Korea is quite strange. We suspect COVID-19 is spreading around North Korea and Kim Jong-un is trying not to get infected, so sometimes he doesn’t come out in public.
“We have some suspicion about his health.”
There are as of yet no solid reports to suggest the supreme leader is dead.
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Moreover, it is not the first time the North has flexed its military muscles for the world stage.
This has mainly come in the form of its testing missiles and continuing with its nuclear programme.
The country is widely believed to have missiles capable of striking long-range targets, including potentially the US mainland.
It also claims to have developed a hydrogen bomb and to be able to mount it on a missile.
Studies suggested that the Hwasong-14 had the most lethal potential – estimating it could travel as far as 10,000km if fired on a maximum trajectory.
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This would have given Pyongyang its first intercontinental missile (ICBM), capable of reaching New York.
Eventually, Hwasong-14 only reached a peak altitude of 3,000km, though its successor, Hwasong-15, managed an altitude of 4,500km.
Its Hwasong-12 missiles, tested in 2017, achieved the desired result and could travel as far as 4,500km (2,800miles) – putting US military bases on the Pacific island of Guam within striking distance.
Guam is home to more than 163,000 US citizens.
Also within distance is Japan, which has a large military presence.
As Retired Lt. Gen. Chip Gregson told journalist Yochi Dreazen in his 2018 report for Vox, “both would be hit”.
Yet, as Lt. Gregson and other experts go on to mention, missiles and rockets might not pose the biggest risk.
Other more covert means, such as chemical weapons, could be dispatched through North Korean citizens into the South, silently killing potentially thousands of people within hours and days.
North Korea’s chemical arsenal is thought to include smallpox, yellow fever, anthrax, hemorrhagic fever, and even plague.
Andrew Webber, formerly the assistant secretary of defence for nuclear, chemical, and biological defence programmes, told Mr Dreazen that the US and South would have to prepare for both civilian and military populations being targeted by bio-weapons.
He said: “We would expect to see cocktails of fast-acting biological agents designed to stop troops in their tracks and regular infectious agents that would take more time to kill people.
“There would be a significant military impact, and a significant psychological one.
“It’s hard to overstate just how frightening these types of weapons are.”
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