North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un addressed his nation’s only legal political party, the communist Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), on Wednesday with an optimistic speech that nonetheless acknowledged that his regime had failed to achieve its five-year goals in “almost all sectors.”
Kim spent much of 2020 reprimanding party officials for failing to lift the nation’s economy from its dire state, the product of nearly a century of communist rule and onerous global sanctions in response to Kim’s latest nuclear weapons test in September 2017. Pyongyang’s closest ally on the world stage, China, approved the sanctions at the United Nations Security Council at the time. In addition to those factors, 2020 was a particularly difficult year for North Korea because of heavy flooding that killed at least dozens of people and destroyed much of the nation’s farmland, leaving the already starving population with even less food.
North Korean officials claim that they have not documented a single case of Chinese coronavirus in the country, but outside observers believe that the pandemic has significantly hurt the country given its lack of a functional healthcare system. In response to the pandemic, but without admitting that it was a problem for the country, Kim ordered the construction of a new hospital, the Pyongyang General Hospital, last year. Kim has condemned the failure of the project to be completed in at least one major speech.
“After hearing a detailed report on the overall situation of the construction from the construction coordination commission on the spot, he pointed out serious problems in economic organization for the construction,” state media paraphrased Kim as saying in July. “He said that the construction coordination commission is organizing economy in a careless manner with no budget for the construction properly set up, yet.”
The transcript of Kim’s remarks on Wednesday, the opening remarks at the Eighth Congress of the WPK, published by North Korean state media reveal that Kim repeatedly described the past year as a unique challenge for the country, and applauded his officials for the little they managed to achieve despite the difficulty.
“In this period the unprecedented, worst-ever trials put great obstacles on the road of advance of our revolution, but our Party achieved great successes through tenacious and accurate practical activities aimed at implementing its fighting programmes,” Kim reportedly said. “During the period under review our internal force further expanded and strengthened, and the external prestige of the country was raised remarkably.”
Kim stated that he expected a “period of gigantic transformation” for “socialist construction” in the near future.
While applauding his party for allegedly offering North Koreans “a sure guarantee for reliably defending the destiny of the country and the people,” Kim admitted, “though the period of implementing the Five-Year Strategy for the National Economic Development ended last year, almost all sectors fell a long way short of the set objectives.”
The five-year plan was adopted in 2016 during Kim’s first Party Congress as dictator, and the first Congress held in over 30 years of communist rule. The five-year plan mandated that North Korea pursue nuclear weapons as a “deterrence” in the Korean War, which is technically ongoing since 1950. It also ordered officials to work to create a prosperous socialist nation, which would have been an unprecedented achievement.
“Still existing are the various external and internal challenges that hamper and hinder our efforts and advance for fresh and continuous victories in socialist construction,” Kim said. “The key to breaking through the existing manifold difficulties with utmost certainty and speed lies in consolidating our own strength, our internal force, in all respects.”
Kim promised that the congress that he was opening would “make a comprehensive and profound analysis and judgement of the experiences, lessons and mistakes we have made during the period under review and, on this basis, define the scientific goals and tasks of struggle, which we can and must accomplish without fail.”
“The successes we have already achieved are priceless for us, and so are the bitter lessons that have been accumulated,” he continued. “We should further promote and expand the victories and successes we have gained at the cost of sweat and blood, and prevent the painful lessons from being repeated.”
Kim urged his officials to “be bold enough to recognize the mistakes which, if left unaddressed, will grow into bigger obstacles and stumbling blocks, and take resolute measures against their repetition.”
Kim did not detail many specific areas in which his regime had failed. He mentioned in passing that the Party’s rules for operating were “outdated.” Kim noted the “world public health crisis” but, rather than noting that it also affected North Korea, Kim applauded the Party for allegedly ensuring “a thoroughgoing stable situation in infectious disease prevention by stubbornly overcoming the difficulties, maintaining the conscious unity of all the people in the effort and regarding it as a patriotic duty devolving on them.”
The North Korean state newspaper Rodong Sinmun claimed that the congress was “full of great excitement of all the participants who would receive the immortal programme for dynamically advancing the socialist cause under the uplifted banner of great Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism.”
“The Supreme Leader [Kim Jong-un] reviewed the shining successes achieved by our Party and people in the period under review,” Rodong Sinmun relayed to its captive audience. “He also analyzed the mistakes manifested in the efforts for implementing the 5-year strategy for national economic development and their subjective and objective factors.”
South Korean news agency Yonhap noted that Kim did not mention the United States or South Korea in his opening remarks. International observers expect the Party Congress to issue an official foreign policy declaration on both, particularly important this year in light of President-elect Joe Biden’s expected ascent to the head of government in the United States.
Kim enjoyed a famously positive personal relationship with outgoing President Donald Trump, despite the unprecedented sanctions that the Trump administration spearheaded against Kim’s regime at the United Nations. In contrast, North Korean state media has referred to Biden as a “rabid dog” who should be “beaten to death as quickly as possible.”
Yonhap also speculated that Kim may promote sister Kim Yo-jong during the Party Congress. Kim Yo-jong has risen to prominence since being sent as part of North Korea’s delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018. While Kim Jong-un often makes public remarks urging diplomacy and economic development, Kim Yo-jong often appears in social media condemning the West and levying violent rhetoric against South Korea, the United States, and other international foes.