SEOUL (SOUTH KOREA) – The five-year economic plan has failed to meet its goals “on almost every sector”, said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as he was speaking at the congress of the ruling Workers’ Party, state media KCNA reported on Wednesday.
The political gathering was last hosted by Kim in 2016 and has drawn international attention as he is expected to unfold a new five-year economic plan and address inter-Korean ties and foreign policy. The congress is attended by 4,750 delegates and 2,000 spectators.
He referred to military advances that lead to the successful test of the intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2017 in his opening speech and said the country had achieved a “miraculous victory” by bolstering its power and global prestige since the last meeting.
But the five-year economic strategy he outlined in 2016 had failed to deliver, he said, “The strategy was due last year but it tremendously fell short of goals on almost every sector.”
In his 2016 plan, Kim called for accentuating economic growth and expanding domestic sources of energy, including nuclear power, to boost electricity supplies. He also underscored the “byungjin” policy of parallel development of nuclear weapons and the economy.
With Kim admitting to some his failures, he was trying to build a ‘man of people’ image, since admitting failure is considered a taboo, that too when the leader is revered for being errorless and godlike.
“He seems to have made a strategic decision to admit economic failure as he can also blame the coronavirus,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy in Seoul.
“By doing so, he would also seek to cement his image as a people-loving leader.”
When it came to COVID, Kim praised party workers for ensuring “stable situations against the coronavirus from beginning to end.”
“They had resolutely overcome difficulties in the face of an unprecedentedly prolonged, unparalleled global health crisis,” he added.
Although North Korea has not officially confirmed any coronavirus infections, it reported thousands of “suspected cases” to the World Health Organization.
Since North Korea had active trade and movement with China before closing it’s borders last January, South Korean authorities have said an outbreak in the North cannot be dismissed.
However, in the KCNA images, no one was seen wearing masks and participants did not seem to maintain social distancing.
Kim usually gives a New Year address which maps out blueprints for his diplomatic, military and economic policy but skipped it this year.
Analysts said he will likely give a message once the congress is over.
Kim was accompanied by top aides, including his sister and senior party official Kim Yo Jong, nominal head of state Choe Ryong Hae and Premier Kim Tok Hun.
The meeting will last some days, it is expected that Kim would announce leadership changes, possibly involving his sister and discuss other organisational, budget and audit issues.