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Kim Jong-un: North Korea to Focus on Economy in 2022

Image source, Reuters

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has said the faltering economy will be the national priority this year as the country faces a “great life-and-death struggle”.

He was speaking at the end of a key ruling party meeting, coming as Mr Kim marks 10 years in power.

A self-imposed coronavirus blockade has left North Korea struggling with food shortages.

There was no direct mention of the US or South Korea in his speech.

Mr Kim said increasing development and improving people’s living standards was the main task.

He acknowledged the “harsh situation” in 2021 and set “an important task for making radical progress in solving the food, clothing and housing problem for the people”, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

He said battling the pandemic was one of the main goals for the coming year: “Emergency epidemic prevention work should be made a top priority in the state work,” he is quoted as saying by KCNA.

But he also said Pyongyang would continue to strengthen its defence capabilities because of an increasingly unstable military environment on the Korean peninsula.

Image source, Reuters

He was speaking on Friday at the end of the 4th Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), which began on Monday.

There were reports earlier this year that people in the country were going hungry, giving rise to concerns as winter approached about a full-blown food crisis.

The border has been closed since January 2020 to prevent the spread of Covid-19 from China.

Analysis by Shreyas Reddy, BBC Monitoring

Following a year in which leader Kim Jong-un repeatedly stressed North Korea’s dire economic condition and food shortages, these challenges were once again in the spotlight at the ruling Workers’ Party’s year-end plenum.

Kim’s warning of a “great life-or-death struggle” in 2022 echoes last April’s rhetoric urging officials to prepare for another “Arduous March”, referencing North Korea’s greatest economic crisis and famine in the 1990s.

While such comparisons overexaggerate the situation, North Korea’s economic woes have indeed been exacerbated by Covid-19-related border closures, international sanctions and natural disasters.

These have all contributed to what Kim described in June as a “tense” food situation, and international agencies also warn of growing food insecurity and starvation.

Kim’s emphasis on implementation of the national economic plan, rural development and advancing “scientific farming” now serves to remind citizens that their leader is prioritising their needs, while setting expectations for another year of economic struggles.

Mr Kim’s new year speeches have previously included messages to South Korea and the US, but there were no explicit mentions this time.

“If we consider this report on the plenum as a replacement of Kim Jong-un’s annual New Year’s speech, it can be said that it’s by far the shortest mention of inter-Korean relations and foreign policy ever,” Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at Sejong Institute, told NK News.

At the end of last year, North and South Korea, the US, and China agreed in principle to declare a formal end to the Korean War which ended in an armistice.

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