SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un acknowledged that his economic development plans had failed when he opened the country’s first five-year full-party party congress, state media reported on Wednesday.
In his opening remarks at the congress, which began Tuesday, Kim said that according to official North Central Korean news, “according to the previous five-year development plan set up at the 2016 congress,“ almost all sectors fell far short of the targets set ”. Agency.
“We need to further promote and expand the victories and successes achieved at the cost of sweating and blood, and prevent the repetition of painful lessons,” they are quoted as saying.
The Labor Party Congress, one of the biggest propaganda games in the North, aims to help Kim show a concerned nation that he is firmly leading and strengthening his unity behind his leadership in the face of COVID-19 and other growing economic challenges.
However, some observers are skeptical that a staged congress will find any fundamental solution to North Korea’s difficulties, many of which stem from decades of economic mismanagement and Kim’s long-term pursuit of expensive nuclear weapons to target the U.S. mainland.
Kim (36) holds the congress, which is expected to last a few days, amid the most difficult challenge of his nine-year rule and the so-called “multiple crises”.
Authoritarian North Korea is one of the poorest countries in Asia, and the already besieged economy is hampered by border closures linked to epidemics with China, the North’s most important economic lifeline, the fall of last summer’s series of natural disasters, and persistent U.S.-led efforts. sanctions for the nuclear program.
Elected U.S. President Joe Biden, who takes office in January, is likely to maintain sanctions and avoid a face-to-face meeting with Kim until North Korea takes significant steps toward nuclear disarmament.
Congress gathered in Pyongyang to define “a new course of struggle and strategic and tactical policy,” with the participation of thousands of delegates and observers, the KCNA reported.
In his speech, Kim described the current difficulties facing his government as the worst and “unprecedented” ever, according to the KCNA.
Kim called for a new five-year plan, reviewed the current situation of North Korea’s metals, chemicals, electrical and other key industries, and identified unspecified challenges for future development.
This is not the first time that Kim has made an honest statement about faulty systems and policies. Last August, he acknowledged the economic “gaps” caused by the “unexpected and inevitable challenges”. He also said last year that North Korea does not have modern medical facilities and that the disaster relief conditions in coastal areas are “poor”.
Few experts question Kim’s grip on power. However, a protracted coronavir virus closure could further destabilize food and foreign exchange markets and exacerbate North Korea’s livelihood. Some observers say this could diminish Kim’s authority.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said “the fundamental problem” is that “Kim wants economic growth to sustain the system while preserving nuclear weapons.”
“Pyongyang is likely to demand easing sanctions rather than simply reducing tensions, rather than making progress on nuclear dearization,” he said.
U.S.-led sanctions intensified after Kim’s unusually aggressive nuclear and missile experiments in 2016 and 2017. They maintain a ban on major exports such as coal, textiles and seafood. Nevertheless, Kim has repeatedly called for an expansion of his nuclear arsenal in order to cope with so-called American hostility.
Kim began talks with President Donald Trump in 2018, but their diplomacy has been at a standstill for about two years due to the wrestling of sanctions.
The epidemic, typhoons, and last summer’s flood – which destroyed houses, farmland, and other infrastructure in North Korea – further damaged the North’s economy.
After closing the border with North Korea’s largest trading partner, China, one year later, bilateral trade fell by about 80% in the first 11 months of last year compared to the same period in 2019, analyst Song Jaeguk said at the IBK Institute for Economic Research in Seoul. North Korea’s GDP is estimated to have shrunk by 9.3% in 2020, he said.
Following a sharp decline in foreign trade, North Korea has seen a fourfold increase in markets for imported foods such as sugar and condiments, while the plant’s operating rate has fallen to its lowest level since Kim took power due to a shortage of raw materials, South Korea’s spy agency lawmakers said in November. at the end.
“I can’t think of any words to describe how difficult the North Koreans are now, instead of saying they’re suffering tremendously,” Song said. “If the coronavirus epidemic continues, they will suffer better.”
Kim sought to gain an image as a caring leader.
According to state media, Kim sent New Year postcards to ordinary citizens, the first such letter from a so-called North Korean leader in Seoul in 26 years. During the October speech, Kim cheated on tears while thanking people for the difficulties. He also made an unusually large number of visits to rural areas affected by typhoons and floods.
Officially, Congress is the party’s highest-level decision-making body, although the most important day-to-day decisions are made by Kim and his inner circle. Delegates gathered for Congress are expected to support Kim’s new initiatives without much debate. Congress continues to provide an opportunity for Kim to consolidate her authority by announcing a new vision, naming loyal lieutenants in top positions, and calling for stronger unity behind her leadership.
Many experts say North Korea has no choice but to maintain the border closure as the pandemic continues worldwide as its public health system continues to be damaged and a serious epidemic could have serious consequences. Despite taking anti-virus measures in Dracoa, North Korea has maintained that it has not found a single case of a virus on its ground, a claim widely questioned by foreign experts.
Congressional KCNA photos did not show that all participants, including Kim, wore masks while sitting directly next to each other.
During the congress, the North could issue conciliatory messages regarding relations with the incoming Biden administration while underlining its traditional ties with China and Russia, the Seoul Unification Ministry said in a report on the prospects for the congress.
Kim did not mention the United States or South Korea in her speech on Tuesday. He is expected to give some more speeches before the end of the congress.
Some experts say Kim is unlikely to launch a major provocation soon, as this would further obscure the prospects for early negotiations with the Biden government, which is struggling with many urgent domestic issues.