Trump wants to help North Korea with the coronavirus?

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s sister is claiming that President Trump sent a letter to her brother offering help with the coronavirus pandemic. The White House isn’t commenting on the report yet, but she was pretty specific about the contents. At the same time, Kim’s state news agency continues to claim that they don’t really need any help because there are no cases of COVID-19 in their country. Assuming the report about the letter is accurate, this would be an unusual example of “viral diplomacy” on the part of the president. (Associated Press)

President Donald Trump sent a personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, seeking to maintain good relations and offering cooperation in fighting the viral pandemic, Kim’s sister said Sunday.

The latest correspondence came as Kim observed the firing of tactical guided weapons over the weekend, drawing criticism from South Korea, as the nuclear talks remain deadlocked.

In a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency, Kim’s sister and senior ruling party official, Kim Yo Jong, praised Trump for sending the letter at a time when “big difficulties and challenges lie ahead in the way of developing ties” between the countries.

I suppose the first question to tackle here is whether or not the report is true. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be. This would be a dumb thing for North Korea to try to fake since all Trump would have to do is send out a tweet saying that he never sent any such letter. Also, Trump is still keen to bring home a win in terms of normalizing relations with North Korea and denuclearizing the peninsula. Trying to leverage the pandemic to get Kim somewhat closer to compliance sounds like something Trump would absolutely attempt.

Do we believe that North Korea doesn’t have a COVID-19 problem? We’re used to Kim’s regime lying to the world about any number of things and the virus is now so endemic around the world that it sounds unlikely at first glance. But then again, I could probably count the number of people who travel into or out of North Korea on a daily basis without removing my shoes and socks. We call it a “hermit nation” for a reason. I suppose it’s possible that nobody has brought the virus in yet so they really don’t have it.

So if we are to assume that the letter was sent, is this really a good idea? I don’t think we can fault the President for continuing to beat his head against this particular wall because at least he’s trying something. But at the same time, North Korea isn’t doing much to show that they deserve any of our generosity. In her announcement, Kim Yo Jong spoke about the difficulties of working on any sort of bilateral relationship “under the cruel environment which the U.S. is keen to provide.”

That’s an obvious reference to the sanctions that are currently still in place. It’s also a fairly strong signal that Kim is sticking to his plan to not do anything to denuclearize unless we lift a lot of the sanctions first. In other words, this is the same impasse we’ve been stuck at for months on end.

Also, the letter was allegedly received just as Kim was supervising the test launch of two more ballistic missiles. He’s clearly called an end to the moratorium on all such testing, so we’re losing ground there instead of making progress. With all of that in mind, why should we bother trying to give them any help with the pandemic, particularly when they’re claiming they neither need nor want it? It’s also unclear what sort of help we could send anyway. We’re still coming up short in terms of doctors, hospital beds, surgical masks and ventilators to meet our own needs.

If North Korea does wind up needing help to fight the virus, Kim should go ask China or Russia for a hand. They’re his new buddies anyway.