North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent South Korean President Moon Jae-in a personal letter expressing his condolences over the coronavirus outbreak, which has so far infected over 6,000 and killed 42 in the country, Seoul officials said March 5.
The letter, which arrived Wednesday, marked Kim’s first public exchange with his counterpart in more than four months. It wasn’t immediately clear if Kim sent the letter to improve strained ties with South Korea amid a deadlock in broader nuclear diplomacy with the United States.
Kim in his letter expressed concern over Moon’s health and extended a “message of comfort to the South Korean people” amid the escalating novel coronavirus outbreak in South Korea.
The Korea Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention confirmed an additional 196 cases on Friday, and seven more deaths from the virus.
“Chairman Kim wished to console our citizens who are fighting the coronavirus,” Yoon Do-han, Moon’s senior press secretary, told reporters on Thursday.
“He said he believes we will win, and hoped the health of southern compatriots will be protected.”
The North Korean leader in his letter also shared “candid thoughts and positions” regarding the two Koreas, and expressed frustration that there wasn’t much he could do to help South Korea at this moment, Yoon said.
Kim “underlined his unwavering friendship and trust toward President Moon and said that he will continue to quietly send his best wishes for President Moon to overcome” the outbreak, Yoon said.
Moon sent a letter back to Kim thanking him, Yoon added.
Moon and Kim built personal ties in 2018 when they met three times and reached a series of agreements aimed at boosting exchanges and lowering military animosity. Moon, a liberal who espouses a negotiated settlement of the North Korean nuclear crisis, also facilitated Kim’s first summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in 2018.
But relations between the Koreas suffered a setback after a second summit between Kim and Trump in Vietnam in early 2019 ended without any deal on North Korea’s nuclear program.
Some experts say North Korea is likely to reach out again to South Korea to receive help in reviving its troubled economy, since the United States has said it won’t ease sanctions on the North unless it takes significant steps toward denuclearization.
Kim also sent a letter to Chinese leader Xi Jinping last month extending his condolences about the coronavirus in China, in which he “expressed the conviction that the party, government and people of China would surely emerge victorious in the campaign to combat the disease,” under Xi’s guidance, according to North Korean state news agency KCNA.
North Korea has not confirmed any cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. However, experts have become increasingly concerned that Pyongyang is covering-up cases and deaths.
According to reports, North Korea this week placed at least 7,000 people under quarantine in an attempt to prevent coronavirus spread in the country.
It has also put in place “high-intensity” measures that the country’s state media says are to prevent coronavirus infections.
These measures include a ban on foreign tourists, reinforced border checks, and the suspension of most air and rail travel within and out of the country. State media KCNA also said that a month-long quarantine period had been imposed on people showing symptoms of the virus.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.