Kim Jong-un calls for improving people’s lives amid economic woes

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers a speech during a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang. (KCNA-Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers a speech during a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the ruling
Workers’ Party in Pyongyang. (KCNA-Yonhap)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un urged his party officials to improve people’s lives in the next five years amid a growing economic crisis aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, the official Korean Central News Agency said Monday.

“As set forth in the January congress, the five-year plan has to improve the living conditions, bring about a fundamental change and buttress a socialist utopia the world envies,” Kim said as he marked the anniversary of the regime’s ruling party on Sunday.

But Kim, who admitted at the January party meeting that his economic policy had failed amid a COVID-hit economy, said a stronger ruling party has prevailed from the last ten years, with a more legitimate mandate to lead North Koreans and greater power to take on hostile forces.

The party-led order has to be the backbone of the country’s leadership, according to Kim. He did not address foreign policy or relations with South Korea or the US – the two ties Kim is seen looking to take to another level as he seeks renewed momentum to reopen nuclear dialogue.

Pyongyang has set conditions for talks to resume, saying it will return to negotiations if Seoul and Washington drop “double standards” and “hostile policy.” They mainly involve granting sanctions relief placed over the North’s nuclear and missile programs and greenlighting its weapons tests.

The week, Suh Hoon, South Korea’s top security adviser, is expected to meet with his US counterpart to coordinate their response, though most do not expect the discussion will lead to a resumption of talks anytime soon.

The two allies agree on restarting talks but they are at odds over how to make that happen and what to do if talks are revived.

Washington is against loosening sanctions to resume dialogue, asking the international community to enforce them strongly as long as Pyongyang is in violation, while Seoul is willing to compromise to jumpstart engagement.

And South Korea wants to sign a declaration to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War armistice if North Korea returns to talks. The Moon administration believes ending the armistice paves the way for a long-term detente, but neither Washington nor Pyongyang has been receptive.

“The declaration is a stepping stone to successful negotiations for North Korea’s denuclearization and an inter-Korean peace treaty,” President Moon said.

The US has said it is open to discussing it, without elaborating what that means, and North Korea said South Korea should drop the double standards and hostile policy before bringing the agenda to table.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@herald