With unusual frankness, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un admitted that US-led sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic and devastating floods had damaged the country’s economy. The ruling party scheduled a rare congress in January to set development goals for the next five years.
Kim announced his first five-year development plan aiming to improve the country’s energy supply and agricultural and manufacturing production during the last Workers’ Party congress, held in 2016 and which was the first in 36 years.
But at Wednesday’s meeting of the Central Committee, the party’s decision-making body, Kim acknowledged the economic problems caused by “unexpected and unavoidable challenges in various respects and the situation in the region surrounding the Korean Peninsula,” it reported. on Thursday Pyongyang’s official news agency, the Korea Central News Agency.
Experts say that COVID-19 has notably affected some of the main economic targets of the secretive nation, which had to impose a quarantine that significantly reduced trade with China – its main ally and economic lifeline – and possibly weakened your ability to mobilize your workforce.
In a closed-door briefing with South Korean lawmakers on Thursday, Seoul’s spy agency said the stress of managing state affairs caused Kim to recently delegate some of his powers to a select group of senior officials. including his sister, who is now involved in policymaking toward the United States and the South.
According to lawmaker Ha Tae-keung, officials from the National Intelligence Service – which has a history of hitting and misreading events among the secretive North Korean elite – insisted that Kim’s power remains absolute. There is no indication that the leader suffers from health problems or is preparing his sister to succeed him, Ha said paraphrasing the South Korean agency.
Kim Byung-kee, another lawmaker who attended the meeting with the SNI said the service believes North Korean foreign exchange reserves are being rapidly depleted by lengthy border controls imposed as part of its campaign against the coronavirus, which has caused a slowdown in construction and other activities.
The SNI did not confirm the legislators’ statements.
Last week, Kim sacked his prime minister after an evaluation of the government’s performance on economic policies. In addition, he said that the country faced the double challenge of curbing the pandemic and repairing the damage caused by the torrential rains that hit the country in recent weeks, destroying thousands of homes and more than 40,000 hectares (100,000 acres) of farmland.
Kim insisted that North Korea will keep the borders closed and reject any foreign aid.