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Kim calls rare congress for North Korea’s ruling party

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called a rare congress of the ruling Workers' Party for January to address policy "shortcomings" and layout a new five-year plan for the isolated nation's moribund economy.

This picture taken on August 19, 2020 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 20, 2020 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaking at the 6th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea at the office building of the Central Committee of the Party in Pyongyang. (Photo by STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP) / – South Korea OUT /

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called a rare congress of the ruling Workers’ Party for January to address policy “shortcomings” and layout a new five-year plan for the isolated nation’s moribund economy.

Kim made the announcement at a full meeting of the party’s central committee on Wednesday, where he “assessed achievements and shortcomings” since the last congress in 2016, the official KCNA news agency reported Thursday.

In unusually frank terms for Pyongyang, the meeting concluded “the goals for improving the national economy have been seriously delayed”, and living standards had not been “remarkably” improved.

Kim said there had been “unexpected and inevitable challenges in various aspects and the situation in the region surrounding the Korean peninsula”.

The UN Security Council, US, EU and others have imposed sanctions on the North over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which have made rapid progress under Kim’s leadership.

The acknowledgement of falling short was “intended to justify the regime’s expected failure to achieve the economic goals it set out earlier”, Hong Min, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification, told AFP.

The timing of the meeting in January, close to the inauguration of the winner of November’s US presidential election, was intended as a signal, he added.

Nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington have been stalled since the collapse of a Hanoi summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump last year.

The meeting ended without a deal after the two sides disagreed on what the North would be willing to give up in exchange for sanctions relief.

North Korea is “telling the US whoever wins the coming election, the new president should accelerate efforts to reach a deal”, Hong said.

White jackets
There was a 36-year interval between the sixth and seventh congresses of the Workers’ Party, a gap which included the entire rule of Kim’s father Kim Jong Il.

Kim called for “regularly convening the congresses of the Party”, KCNA reported, a sign that Pyongyang is likely to hold the meetings according to a more fixed timetable in future.

The party’s mouthpiece newspaper Rodong Sinmun carried several pictures of Kim addressing the meeting, where all attendees wore white.

But Seoul’s spy agency later told lawmakers that he had delegated some authority to his sister Kim Yo Jong and others to relieve his “governance stress”.

The moves — with Yo Jong handling relations with the South and the US, and others dealing with the economy and military — also aimed to “avoid responsibility” in case of policy failures, South Korean lawmaker Ha Tae-keung cited the National Intelligence Service as telling legislators.

“For example, Kim Yo Jong would get a report on the strategy toward the South and the US, and then it will be submitted to Kim Jong Un,” said Ha, from the main opposition United Future Party.

The intelligence agency has a mixed record with its past pronouncements on developments in the North.

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