SEOUL (AFP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un put the economy front and centre of an agenda-setting speech at the end of a key ruling party meeting, state media reported yesterday, with no mention of the United States (US).
Instead of the policy positions on diplomacy for which Kim’s New Year statements have been closely watched in recent years, he focussed on food security and development at a plenary of the central committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
The impoverished, nuclear-armed nation has been under a rigid self-imposed coronavirus blockade that has hammered its economy.
In a speech at the end of the party meeting on Friday, Kim acknowledged the “harsh situation” in 2021 as he laid out plans for the coming year, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
He 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”, KCNA said.
The Covid-19 pandemic and resulting border closure saw the country record its biggest economic contraction in over two decades in 2020, according to the South Korean central bank.
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.
“Emergency epidemic prevention work should be made a top priority in the state work,” Kim said according to KCNA.
Analysts pointed to the impact of Covid as the reason for the sharpened focus on the economy.
“The pandemic continues to constrain North Korea’s diplomacy, decimate its economy, and make border controls the top security issue,” Ewha Womans University Professor Leif-Eric Easley told AFP.