NKorean leader calls for meeting to review battered economy

In his first public appearance in about a month, North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un chaired a meeting of his ruling party and called for a larger political conference to discuss efforts to save a declining economy.

Korea’s North Central Central News Agency said Saturday that Kim expressed appreciation for much of the work being accelerated thanks to the “ideological enthusiasm and self-reliance” of the party and its people.

But he also said that it was necessary to correct “deflective matters” and called for a plenary session of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party to review general state affairs for the first half of 2021. The party announced that the plenary session would be brought forward to June.

Kim’s appearance at the Politburo meeting on Friday was the first time since May 6 that he had appeared in public holding a photo session with families of North Korean soldiers.

North Korea’s ailing economy has continued to deteriorate amid pandemic border closings that have significantly reduced trade with China, its main ally and economic lifeline.

The Labor Party last held a Central Committee plenary session in February when Kim raided state economic authorities for their “passive and self-protective tendencies” in setting their annual goals.

While Kim said on Friday that North Korea continues to face challenges from “unfavorable subjective and objective conditions and environments,” the KCNA report made no comments on the United States or South Korea.

North Korea has so far ignored the Allied demands for a resumption of nuclear negotiations, which have stalled since the failure of the second summit between Kim and former President Donald Trump in February 2019. The Americans then rejected the North Koreans’ demands for the sanctions lifted in exchange for a. from piecemeal to the partial abandonment of their nuclear capabilities.

After meeting in Washington last month, President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a joint statement that Washington would take with Pyongyang a “calibrated and practical approach that is open to and explores diplomacy.”

But North Korea has questioned the sincerity of the proposals, claiming that Biden’s agreement to lift Washington’s decade-long range restrictions limiting South Korea’s missile development, announced after its meeting with Moon, demonstrated US’s ongoing hostility towards the North.

US officials have suggested that Biden pursues a middle ground policy between his predecessors – Trump’s direct dealings with Kim and Barack Obama’s “strategic patience”. However, some experts say Washington is unlikely to give the North any significant sanctions relief unless it takes concrete denuclearization steps first. Kim has vowed in his recent political speeches to strengthen its nuclear weapons program. The fate of bilateral relations, however, depends on whether Washington rejects what it sees as hostile policies.

During a rare ruling party congress in January, Kim urged his people to be resilient in the struggle for economic self-sufficiency. He called for greater state control over the economy, increasing agricultural production and prioritizing the development of the chemical and metal industries.

Experts say such sectors are vital to North Korean hopes to revive industrial production, which has been decimated by sanctions and stopped imports of factory materials amid the pandemic.

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