North Korea is highly expected to use a defector who recently returned to the North with alleged coronavirus symptoms to promote its regime's healthcare system, according to watchers of the reclusive state, Wednesday.
|This photo shows a culvert in the northern part of Ganghwa Island that may have been used by a North Korean defector to return home. The other side has been blurred for security purposes. / Yonhap|
Since its first report, the North has not reported follow-up news regarding the "runaway," raising speculation that he may be undergoing virus testing. After the North's report, the South Korean government said the defector had been categorized as neither infected nor suspected of infection.
"The North Korean regime is likely to take advantage of Kim in promoting its healthcare system, saying the defector, who was infected with the virus in South Korea, is now healed under its own treatment," said An Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who heads the World Institute for North Korea Studies.
"The North may be preparing for propaganda."
Kim Heung-kwang, chief of the Seoul-based North Korea Intellectual Solidarity, expressed a similar view. He was a computer science professor at Hamhung Computer Technology University in the North before coming to the South.
"The North will make the most of him in many ways to promote its fight against the virus," Kim said.
Their speculation is based on the fact that Lim Ji-hyun, a North Korean woman who returned to the North in 2017 after living in the South for three years, appeared in the country's propaganda videos, condemning the South for enslaving her with money and admitting that she had suffered physically and mentally in the capitalist South.
After appearing in cable TV programs featuring North Korean defectors, Lim, who is now named Jeon Hye-sung in the North, became somewhat popular here.
In addition to being a useful tool to promote the regime, the defector is also a source of information and North Korean authorities are likely to interrogate him about the South's policies on those who escape from the North.
"Now, the North has obtained a great intelligence source," An said.
However, others believe that Kim may not be a good role model to promote its regime because of a rape accusation against him. He had been under investigation over suspicions he raped a female defector last month.
"I think that the North has already used Kim as an excuse to admit its first case of COVID-19. Its first infection is not any fault of its own but because of the South," said Park Won-gon, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University.
"It may not be easy for the North to use him in promoting its regime due to the rape allegations."
In addition, even though the defector could be used for propaganda purposes, he would eventually end up punished.
"He is already a traitor due to his defection to the South, which will ssee him sentenced to at least five years in jail," Kim Heung-kwang said.
"After fully taking advantage of him, the authorities will punish him."
Also on Wednesday, the South's unification ministry said it was considering whether to request the extradition of the defector due to the rape accusations.
"The relevant organizations are currently carrying out detailed investigations into the issue," ministry spokesman Yoh Sang-key said in a press briefing.
Last November, two North Koreans were caught near the eastern inter-Korean sea border, but the South sent them back to the North over allegations they fled south after killing fellow crewmembers while in the North ― although they wanted to defect to the South.