North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has admitted his economic development plans for the country are a failure.
In his opening speech to the congress of the Workers’ Party, Mr Kim confessed his five-year finance programme had failed to achieve its goals “in almost all areas to a great extent”.
According to the country’s official Korean Central News Agency, he described the difficulties facing his government as “the worst-ever” and “unprecedented”.
Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event
The five-year plan was established at the 2016 congress but following its collapse, the leader has now called for a replacement, as well as a review of North Korea’s metal, chemical, electric and other key industries.
Authoritarian North Korea is one of the poorest countries in Asia, and the already-besieged economy is being hammered by pandemic-related border closings with China, the North’s major economic lifeline, the fallout from a series of natural disasters last summer and persistent US-led sanctions over their nuclear programme.
Mr Kim appealed to the congress: “We should further promote and expand the successes and victories that we’ve achieved through our painstaking efforts but prevent us from having the painful lessons again.”
The Workers’ Party Congress, one of the North’s biggest propaganda spectacles, is meant to help Mr Kim show a worried nation that he’s firmly in control and to boost unity behind his leadership in the face of COVID-19 and other growing economic challenges.
It is thought a prolonged coronavirus-related lockdown may be further destabilizing food and foreign exchange markets and aggravating livelihoods in North Korea.
But some critics are sceptical that the stage-managed congress will find any fundamental solutions to North Korea’s difficulties, many of which stem from decades of economic mismanagement and Mr Kim’s headlong pursuit of expensive nuclear weapons meant to target the US mainland.
US-led sanctions against North Korea toughened after Mr Kim’s unusually aggressive run of nuclear and missile tests in 2016 and 2017.
Nevertheless, he has still repeatedly pushed for an expansion of his nuclear arsenal to cope with what he calls US hostility.
Mr Kim entered talks with President Donald Trump in 2018, but their diplomacy has been deadlocked for about two years because of wrangling over the sanctions.