SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un opened its first ruling party congress in five years with an admission of policy failures and a vow to lay out new developmental goals, state media reported Wednesday.
The Korean Central News Agency reported North Korea has kicked off the Workers’ Party Congress in Pyongyang on Tuesday, with thousands of delegates and observers in attendance.
In his opening speech, KCNA cited Kim as saying the previous state developmental goals set in a 2016 congress “were not met in almost all areas to a great extent.” Kim said North Korea “must not repeat the painful lessons,” according to KCNA.
North Korea has said it will lay out a new five-year development plan at the ongoing congress.
This year’s congress comes as Kim faces the toughest challenge of his nine-year rule because of what he calls “multiple crises” — an economy hammered by pandemic-caused border closings, a spate of natural disasters last summer and persistent U.S.-led sanctions.
Another source of worry for Kim is the planned inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who unlike President Donald Trump is expected to avoid top-down summit diplomacy with him and maintain punishing sanctions on the North, unless Kim takes significant steps toward denuclearization.
Officially, the congress is the party’s top decision-making body, though key day-to-day decisions are made by Kim and members of his inner circle. The congress would still provide Kim with a chance to soliditify his authority by announcing new state goals, naming loyal lieutenants to top posts, and calling for a stronger unity behind his leadership.
North Korea’s yearlong closure of its border with China, its biggest trading partner, to guard against COVID-19 is taking a heavy toll on its already-troubled economy. Bilateral trade volume plummeted by about 79% in the first 11 months of last year from the corresponding period in 2019, analyst Song Jaeguk at Seoul’s IBK Economic Research Institute. North Korea’s GDP was estimated to have contracted by 9.3% in 2020, he said.
In the wake of its sharply shrunken external trade, North Korea experienced a fourfold increase of imported foodstuffs like sugar and seasonings at markets while its factory operation rate dropped to its lowest level since Kim took power because of a shortage of raw materials, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers in late November.
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