DANDONG, China — When it comes to North Korea, there is no end to the conspiracy theories.
The world had barely finished speculating about Kim Jong Un’s prolonged absence from the public eye last summer — Was it gout? Too much cheese? Broken ankles? A coup d’etat? — before Pyongyang provided more fodder for speculation by dramatically closing its borders in response to the Ebola outbreak last fall.
Surely this couldn’t actually be about Ebola, breaking out half a world away, some North Korea watchers said, espousing a range of theories from domestic political instability to a desire to further shield North Koreans from outside information — and especially from the highly critical U.N. reports on Pyongyang’s human rights abuses.
Now, even as the West African countries where the outbreak began return to a relatively normal footing, the “hermit kingdom” of North Korea has stepped up its measures to guard against the disease.[Read: North Korea wasn’t kidding about Ebola]
In addition to strictly enforcing a 21-day quarantine for anyone who has been out of the country, Kim’s regime has canceled the Arirang mass gymnastics performance scheduled for April — a jaw-dropping display of children acting as robots that brings in thousands of tourist dollars — and has banned foreign runners from the Pyongyang marathon that was also set for April. The race has historically attracted some competitors from Africa — in 2013, the men’s winner was Ethiopian.