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NKorea’s Kim vows to strengthen army, maintain virus brakes

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to further strengthen his military capabilities, maintain draconian anti-virus measures and do everything possible to improve the economy during a speech delivered at a key political conference this week, state media reported on Saturday. .

A state media report of Kim’s speech did not contain any comment on relations with the United States and South Korea. Some experts say this implies that Kim has no interest in resuming talks with Washington and Seoul anytime soon and would rather keep his country’s borders closed while seeking a self-sustaining economy to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.

“The increasingly volatile military environment on the Korean Peninsula and international politics have prompted calls to vigorously advance our plans to strengthen national defense without any delay,” Kim said, according to the Central News Agency. Korean official.

Kim ordered the production of powerful and modern weapon systems to enhance his military forces and called for the military’s “absolute loyalty and allegiance” to the ruling party led by him.

KCNA said Kim had set “tactical directions” for North Korea’s foreign relations, including with South Korea, but did not elaborate.

The five-day plenary meeting of the party’s Central Committee came as Kim marked 10 years in office. Since inheriting control upon the death of his dictator father in December 2011, Kim Jong Un has established absolute power in his country and bolstered his nuclear and missile arsenals. But the North Korean economy has suffered major setbacks in the past two years due to border closures caused by a pandemic, persistent UN sanctions and fallout from natural disasters.

There are no signs of political instability in North Korea, but some experts say the long-term stability of Kim’s leadership could be called into question if the current difficulties persist. High-profile political conferences like the Plenary Meeting give Kim an opportunity to consolidate the unity behind his leadership and show that he is firmly in control of the government. But it is unclear whether such meetings offer fundamental solutions to North Korea’s difficulties, which are largely attributed to decades of mismanagement, self-imposed isolation and its nuclear propulsion, which made it the most heavily sanctioned country in the world.

At a party convention in January last year, Kim admitted that his previous economic development plans had failed and said his country was facing “the worst ever” situation.

But in this week’s plenary session, Kim claimed progress in new development plans, saying 2021 was “a year of great victory” that would serve as a prelude to greater changes and improvements. Kim cited advances in agriculture, construction, power, mining, forestry and many other sectors, which could not be independently confirmed.

According to South Korean estimates, North Korea’s trade with China, its largest trading partner and an economic pipeline, declined by around 80% in 2020 before plunging again by two-thirds in the first nine. months of last year. In 2020, the North Korean economy suffered its largest contraction since 1997, while its grain output also fell to its lowest level since Kim took office in 2011. Seoul officials said the Northern grain production had improved slightly last year.

During the plenary meeting, Kim ordered officials to prioritize emergency pandemic campaigns, saying neglect and loopholes would not be tolerated. Analysts say Kim is concerned that his country’s fragile public health infrastructure cannot handle a major virus outbreak – although he maintains a questionable claim that North Korea is coronavirus-free.

“North Korea should continue to close its borders and resort to self-sufficiency while doing a minimum level of essential trade with China due to the new variant (omicron) and the continuing pandemic around the world.” said analyst Cheong Seong-Chang. at the Sejong private institute.

Cheong said there is “a very remote possibility” that North Korea will accept calls by the United States to restart nuclear diplomacy or South Korea’s calls for a token political declaration to end the war. of Korea from 1950-1953 as a means of easing tensions.

U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program in return for economic and political benefits collapsed in 2019 when then-President Donald Trump rejected demands Kim’s request for extensive sanctions relief in exchange for partial denuclearization measures. Kim has since threatened to expand his nuclear arsenal and introduce high-tech weapons targeting the United States and its allies.

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