Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, threatened South Korea's foreign minister Wednesday over remarks questioning the North's COVID-19 response. File Photo by Jorge Silva/EPA-EFE
SEOUL, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, on Wednesday criticized the "reckless remarks" made by South Korea's foreign minister over Pyongyang's handling of the coronavirus and warned that the top diplomat might have to "pay dearly."
Kim was referring to comments made by South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha at a security forum in Bahrain last week in which Kang questioned North Korea's claim that it has had no COVID-19 cases.
"They still say they don't have any cases, which is hard to believe," Kang said during a panel discussion at the IISS Manama Dialogue 2020. "All signs are the regime is very intensely focused on controlling the disease that they say they don't have. So it's a bit of an odd situation."
Kang added that North Korea "has not been very responsive to our offer of help on the COVID-19 front" and that the pandemic has made the North "more closed."
Kim said the remarks would strain the frosty inter-Korean relationship.
"It can be seen from the reckless remarks made by her without any consideration of the consequences that she is too eager to further chill the frozen relations between the [N]orth and [S]outh of Korea," said Kim in a statement carried by state-run Korea Central News Agency on Wednesday.
"We will never forget her words and she might have to pay dearly for it," Kim added.
Kim's profile rose in the spring with a series of bellicose statements toward Seoul and Washington, leading some to speculate that she was being groomed for succession of her brother.
However, she later disappeared from the public eye for more than two months and had not made any official comments since late July before Wednesday's remarks.
According to the World Health Organization, as of Nov. 20, the North had conducted over 15,000 tests and recorded nearly 8,000 suspected COVID-19 cases but has reported no confirmed infections so far.
Outside experts question whether North Korea has truly managed to avoid the deadly pandemic, but the totalitarian state took dramatic steps early by closing its borders to most trade and travel in January.
Pyongyang has reportedly laid landmines and given its troops shoot-to-kill orders at border areas to help fend off the coronavirus, fearing an outbreak would overwhelm its limited medical infrastructure.
International Red Cross workers and most remaining foreign diplomats left Pyongyang last week amid tightening COVID-19 restrictions and on Monday, KCNA reported that North Korea was "intensifying the work for strictly observing the top-class anti-epidemic guidelines in winter."
Kim's remarks came after U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun arrived in Seoul on Tuesday for meetings this week with South Korean officials, including Kang, to discuss stalled nuclear negotiations with North Korea and Seoul-Washington relations.