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North Korean leaders gather despite coronavirus pandemic risk

(ATF) North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his five-year economic plan had failed to meet any of its goals in a rare admission as the ruling Workers’ Party stages a huge gathering in Pyongyang despite risks from the coronavirus pandemic.

Kim is expected to unveil a new five-year economic plan at the gathering and address foreign policy issues ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden as U.S. president after four tumultuous years of US-Korean diplomacy under Donald Trump.

Kim’s opening speech focused on military matters, referring to successful tests in 2017 of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the U.S. mainland. But Kim drew attention with his poor rating of the country’s five-year economic strategy that he had set forth in 2016.

“The strategy was due last year but it tremendously fell short of goals on almost every sector,” Kim said, according to the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA), Pyongyang’s mouthpiece.

About 7,000 top North Korean officials have gathered in Pyongyang for a rare political meeting this week, including 250 party leaders, 4,750 delegates and a further 2,000 observers.

Observers have expressed surprise that such a large meeting is being held during the pandemic. International experts and foreign officials have expressed doubt over North Korea’s claim of zero cases of domestic Covid-19 transmission.

Photographs released by KCNA on Tuesday’s opening day of the party meeting on showed attendees not wearing masks.

Multiple setbacks

North Korea is also suffering what many believe is the worst economic crisis since the devastating famine of the mid 1990s, exacerbated by border closures, economic sanctions, floods and typhoons.

KCNA heralded the meeting as a turning point for the beleaguered country. “The venue of the congress was full of great excitement of all the participants who would receive the immortal programme for dynamically advancing the socialist cause,” the agency wrote in a preview.

However, KCNA also hinted at the economic plan’s shortcomings. “[Kim] also analysed the mistakes manifested in the efforts for implementing the five-year strategy for national economic development and their subjective and objective factors,” the agency wrote.

“Underlining the need to start the work for further developing the overall economy of the country under a new five-year plan, the Supreme Leader analysed the present states of the key industrial sectors including metal, chemical, electricity, coal, machinery and mining industries and set forth the tasks for future development,” KCNA added.


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George Russell

George Russell is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong who has lived in Asia since 1996. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Post, Variety, Forbes and the South China Morning Post.


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