North Korean leader says Pyongyang’s main goals will be jump starting economic development and improving people’s lives as it faces a “great life-and-death struggle”.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has put the economy front and centre of an agenda-setting speech at the end of a key ruling party meeting.
Instead of the policy positions on diplomacy, for which Kim’s New Year statements have been closely watched in recent years, he focused on food security and development at a meeting on Friday of the central committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
In a speech at the end of the party meeting, Kim acknowledged the “harsh situation” in 2021 as he laid out plans for the coming year.
The impoverished, nuclear-armed nation has been under a rigid self-imposed coronavirus blockade that has resulted in the country’s biggest economic contraction in over two decades in 2020, according to the South Korean central bank.
Kim described the challenges of 2022 as “a great life-and-death struggle” and set “an important task for making radical progress in solving the food, clothing and housing problem for the people”, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
Concerns have grown about a full-blown food crisis in North Korea, and a United Nations human rights expert warned in October that the most vulnerable were “at risk of starvation”.
Kim, who took power just over a decade ago after the death of his father Kim Jong Il, said battling the pandemic was one of the main goals for the coming year.
In his speech, Kim did not mention the United States or directly address foreign policy issues.
But he said Pyongyang would continue to build up its military capabilities keeping in mind “the military environment of the Korean peninsula” and the changing international situation.
That includes ensuring loyalty and obedience in the military, improving militias, and “the production of the powerful equipment corresponding with the modern warfare”, Kim said.
“Overall, Kim might be aware that revealing sophisticated military development plans while people are suffering food shortages and harsh conditions outside of Pyongyang might not be such a good idea this year,” tweeted Chad O’Carroll of specialist website NK News.
“North Korea is more or less in survival mode for 2022 – and doesn’t really know what to do… (about) foreign policy right now.”
Pyongyang is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, which have progressed rapidly under Kim.
But the worsening economic situation during the pandemic has not blunted those programmes, and North Korea has continued to pursue weapons development, a UN report said in October.