North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says his economic development plans have failed as he opened the nation’s first full ruling party congress in five years, according to state media.
- Mr Kim said that “almost all sectors fell a long way short of the set objectives” under a previous five-year development plan
- He made the comments at a national congress designed to help him show a worried nation that he’s firmly in control
- Last year, Mr Kim acknowledged economic “shortcomings” caused by “unexpected and inevitable challenges”
Mr Kim said that “almost all sectors fell a long way short of the set objectives” under a previous five-year development plan established at the 2016 congress, reports the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
“We should further promote and expand the victories and successes we have gained at the cost of sweat and blood, and prevent the painful lessons from being repeated,” Mr Kim is quoted as saying.
The Workers’ Party Congress one of the country’s biggest propaganda spectacles is designed to help Mr Kim show a worried nation that he’s firmly in control and to boost unity behind his leadership in the face of COVID-19 and other growing economic challenges.
But some observers are sceptical that the stage-managed congress will find any fundamental solutions to North Korea’s difficulties, many of which stem from decades of economic mismanagement and Mr Kim’s headlong pursuit of expensive nuclear weapons meant to target the US mainland.
Mr Kim, 36, is holding the congress, which is expected to last a few days, amid what may be the toughest challenge of his nine-year rule and what he has called “multiple crises.”
The authoritarian nation is one of the poorest countries in Asia.
The Workers’ Party Congress is one of the country’s biggest propaganda spectacles. It’s designed to show Kim Jong Un is in control.(Reuters: KCNA)
North Korea’s already besieged economy is being hammered by pandemic-related border closings with China, the North’s major economic lifeline, the fallout from a series of natural disasters last summer and persistent US-led sanctions over its nuclear program.
US president-elect Joe Biden, who takes office later this month, will likely maintain the sanctions and avoid any direct meeting with Mr Kim until North Korea takes significant steps toward denuclearisation.
The congress met in Pyongyang to determine “a fresh line of struggle and strategic and tactical policies,” with thousands of delegates and observers in attendance, KCNA reported.
In his speech, Mr Kim described the present difficulties facing his government as “the worst-ever” and “unprecedented”, according to KCNA.
Mr Kim called for a new five-year plan and reviewed the present status of North Korea’s metal, chemical, electric and other key industries and set unspecified tasks for future development, KCNA said.
It’s not the first time Kim has been candid about flawed systems and policies.
In August, he acknowledged economic “shortcomings” caused by “unexpected and inevitable challenges.”
Also last year, he said North Korea lacks modern medical facilities and that anti-disaster conditions in coastal areas is “poor.”
Few experts doubt Mr Kim’s grip on power. But a prolonged coronavirus-related lockdown may be further destabilising food and foreign exchange markets and aggravating livelihoods in North Korea.
Kim’s regime and COVID-19
It is known for missile launches and having one of the most authoritative regimes in the world. But North Korea has recently wanted to be known for something else: avoiding a coronavirus outbreak.
That could possibly lessen Mr Kim’s authority, some observers say.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said that “the fundamental problem” is that “Kim wants regime-sustaining economic growth while retaining nuclear weapons.”
“Pyongyang is thus likely to demand sanctions relief for merely reducing tensions rather than making progress on denuclearisation,” he said.
US-led sanctions toughened after Mr Kim’s unusually aggressive run of nuclear and missile tests in 2016 and 2017.
They maintain a ban on major export items such as coal, textiles and seafood.
Nevertheless, Mr Kim has still repeatedly pushed for an expansion of his nuclear arsenal to cope with what he calls US hostility.
After the year-long closure of its border with China, bilateral trade volume plummeted by about 80 per cent in the first 11 months of last year, said analyst Song Jaeguk at Seoul’s IBK Economic Research Institute.
North Korea’s GDP was estimated to have contracted by 9.3 per cent in 2020, he said.