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NK readies for January party meet

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North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Wednesday shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attending the 22nd meeting of the Political Bureau of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) at the office building of the Party Central Committee in Pyongyang on Tuesday. KCNA/KNS/AFP

NK readies for January party meet

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has chaired a Politburo meeting on preparations for a rare party congress early next month, state media said on December 30.

The congress, which is expected to set out a new economic and political plan, will be the first such meeting in five years, and only the eighth in North Korea’s history.

It will take place ahead of the January 20 inauguration of Joe Biden as US president. Relations with the US have been deadlocked since talks between President Donald Trump and Kim stalled early last year.

Pyongyang is also under increasing financial pressure, as the coronavirus pandemic and floods over the summer put its flagging economy under yet more strain.

The Politburo meeting, held on December 29, agreed to hold the congress early next month, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, without giving an exact date.

The meeting included “in-depth study and discussion on a series of important issues” to be reviewed at the congress, it added.

North Korea has suffered from chronic economic mismanagement and a previous plan was quietly scrapped earlier this year, with a party meeting in August concluding that “goals for improving the national economy have been seriously delayed”.

In October, Kim ordered an 80-day nationwide drive to boost the economy ahead of the January congress, featuring extra-long work hours and additional duties for workers.

A similar push happened before the seventh congress in 2016, which saw a new five-year economic plan announced, starting with a 200-day mass mobilisation campaign.

North Korea’s economic plight has been worsened by international sanctions imposed in response to its ballistic missile and nuclear programmes, which have made rapid progress under Kim’s leadership.

Nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and the Trump administration ground to a halt after the collapse of the Hanoi summit early last year over sanctions relief.

The incoming US president has characterised Kim as a “thug”, while Pyongyang has called Biden a “rabid dog”.

By holding the congress before he takes office, Kim “may want to pre-empt rather than react to the Biden administration’s policies”, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

Kim’s 2016 congress was the first in North Korea in 36 years.

State media broadcast pictures of hordes of suited party cadres and uniformed military officials descending on the capital, and the end of the congress was marked with an enormous civilian parade.

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