Kim vows to bolster North Korea’s military at party meeting

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) — North Korea leader Kim Jong-un vowed to strengthen the country’s military defences in a speech at a major ruling party meeting that provides insights into his priorities amid growing economic challenges and a United States (US) Presidential transition.

Kim made clear his “will to reliably protect the security of the country and people and the peaceful environment of the socialist construction by placing the state defence capabilities on a much higher level, and put forth goals for realising it”, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The state media report yesterday on Kim’s speech to the Workers’ Party congress the previous day did not elaborate. North Korea has previously underscored its need for nuclear weapons and missiles as a deterrent and a pre-emptive strike capability to cope with what it describes as American hostility.

Cheong Seong-chang, a fellow at the Wilson Centre’s Asia Programme, said Kim’s speech likely contained “sensitive contents” that can provoke the US and South Korea. South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers in late November that Kim was worried about President-elect Joe Biden’s expected new approach on North Korea.

This year’s congress — the first in five years — comes as Kim faces what appears to be the toughest moment since taking power in late 2011, due to what he calls “multiple crises” caused by an economy battered by pandemic-related border closings, a series of natural disasters and the sanctions.

On the first day of the congress on Tuesday, Kim admitted his previous economic development plans failed, saying that “almost all sectors fell a long way short of the set objectives”. He said the congress would work out a new five-year development plan.

Kim on Wednesday presented goals for developing the North’s transport, construction, commerce and other industries and proposed ways to expand production in agriculture, light industry and fishing to improve public livelihoods, KCNA said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attends a ruling party congress in Pyongyang. PHOTO: AP