North Korea flies in supplies from China
North Korea is believed to have flown in emergency supplies from China Tuesday to deal with an outbreak of suspected Covid-19 cases.
Three large cargo aircraft belonging to Air Koryo, the North Korean state-run airline, arrived at Shenyang Taoxian Airport in Liaoning Province, northeastern China, on Tuesday morning and returned to North Korea the same afternoon, according to multiple sources in the region who spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo on condition of anonymity.
The aircraft were all Russian-made Ilyushin Il-76, the multi-purpose transport plane capable of carrying 50 tons of cargo and the largest plane in the North Korean air fleet. The North is known to have three Il-76s.
The kind of cargo picked up has not been identified, but in light of the North’s unprecedented Covid-19 crisis and the fact that the country deployed all three of its Il-76s, there is a high probability that the supplies are meant to help the regime deal with its outbreak.
Another source said that it was possible the planes may make multiple trips to China.
“There are many restrictions on transporting medical supplies to North Korea by land from China,” the sourced said, adding, “It seems that they chose aircraft to quickly transport large amounts of supplies.”
Due to the spread of the Omicron variant in China, overland trade between North Korea and Dandong was shut down on April 25, while rail shipments between North Korea and China were suspended four days later.
Now, with the spread of Covid-19 in North Korea, Chinese border cities such as Ji’an in Jilin Province have strengthened their anti-disease measures and barred the entry of foreigners.
The arrival of North Korean aircraft in Shenyang marks the first time in over two years that flights have taken place between China and North Korea.
In January 2020, when the first outbreak of Covid-19 was reported in China, North Korea shut down all overland routes and suspended the few flights between the two countries.
At a regular press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin did not directly confirm that China had provided the North with emergency Covid-19 aid, but said, “Covid-19 control is a common challenge facing all mankind, and we have a great tradition of helping each other in times of crisis.”
Wang added that Beijing “wants to support and strengthen cooperation with the North through the process of fighting Covid-19.”
The Chinese lifeline to North Korea comes as Pyongyang issued a special order to the country’s military to ensure stable distribution of medicine throughout the country.
According to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Monday, the ruling Workers’ Party Politburo convened an emergency meeting on May 15 at which leader Kim Jong-un blasted officials for the lack of timely distribution of medicines through pharmacies.
Kim singled out the director of the Central Prosecutor's Office for neglecting his duties, blaming the official – who is roughly equivalent to an attorney general – for allowing drug hoarding and illegal sales of medicines during the outbreak.
According to the KCNA report, the Politburo decided to deploy the country’s military to ensure a stable distribution of medicines, which will be handed out to the public through pharmacies which are now to remain open around the clock.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]