Seoul, South Korea:
North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un put the economy at the center of an agenda address at the end of an important meeting of the ruling party, state media reported on Saturday, without mentioning the United States.
Instead of the political positions on diplomacy for which Kim’s New Year declarations have been closely watched in recent years, he focused on food and development at a plenary session of the Korean Workers’ Party.
The impoverished, nuclear-armed nation has been under a severe, self-imposed coronavirus blockade that has battered its economy and struggled with food shortages.
“Taking an epoch-making step in solving people’s daily needs has been identified as an important task,” the official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a report on Kim’s speech.
As a result of the pandemic and the resulting border closure, the north recorded the largest economic decline in over two decades in 2020, according to the South Korean central bank.
Concerns about a full-blown food crisis in the country have grown, and a United Nations human rights expert warned in October that the most vulnerable are “at risk of starvation”.
Kim, who took power a little over a decade ago after the death of his father Kim Jong Il, said at the party meeting that fighting the pandemic was one of the main goals for the coming year.
“Emergency anti-epidemic measures must be a top national priority and must be carried out vigorously … without even a slight loophole, void or void,” he said, according to the KCNA.
While the leader did not directly mention the United States or South Korea, he said briefly that Pyongyang would continue to develop its military capabilities.
“The increasingly unstable military environment on the Korean peninsula and the international situation require strengthening national defense capabilities,” Kim was quoted by KCNA as saying.
The state media embassy did not do what that could mean.
Pyongyang is subject to several international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which have advanced rapidly under Kim.
But the deteriorating economic situation during the pandemic did not weaken those programs, and North Korea has continued to pursue weapons development, an October UN report said.
Pyongyang has stayed away from talks about its nuclear program in 2019 since the failure of the dialogue between Kim and then US President Donald Trump.
It has also rejected South Korea’s diplomatic efforts.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and will be posted via a syndicated feed.)