Kim Jong-un's New Year's Resolution: More Food for North Korea

SEOUL – Kim Jong-un entered his second decade as North Korea’s leader with a vow to alleviate the country’s chronic food shortages, stat...


SEOUL – Kim Jong-un entered his second decade as North Korea’s leader with a vow to alleviate the country’s chronic food shortages, state media reported on Saturday – a problem he inherited from his deceased father 10 years ago and which he has not yet resolved.

Mr Kim, 37, chaired a five-day meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party in North Korea this week, which attracted more attention than usual as it came at the end of its first decade in the to be able to.

On Saturday, New Year’s Day, the northern state media broadcast lengthy reports of the reunion. They did not mention any diplomatic overtures by Mr. Kim to the United States or South Korea, and only a brief reiteration of his frequent pledge to increase the military might of the North. But a lot of space has been devoted to the subject of food shortages, which many analysts see as Mr. Kim’s biggest leadership gap.

One of the first promises Mr. Kim made after inheriting the power from his father, Kim Jong-il, a decade ago was that the long-suffering North Koreans “no longer having to tighten your belt. “But that goal has remained elusive. Several months ago, Mr Kim issued a rare warning that the North was facing a “tense” food situation, caused by the Coronavirus pandemic and international sanctions against its nuclear weapons program.

At the party meeting that ended on Friday, Kim pledged to “increase agricultural production and completely solve the food problem”, specifying production targets “to be achieved phase by phase over the next 10 years. coming years, “according to the North Korean Central News Agency. noted.

But Mr Kim did not appear to introduce any significant agricultural measures, except for the cancellation of all the debts of the cooperative farms to the government. He mainly repeated the old party exhortations for farmers to use more machines, greenhouses, fertilizers and pesticides. He also said that they should “grasp the greatness and gratitude towards the party, the state and the social system” and make “collectivism dominate their thought and their life”.

Despite his ambitions to grow North Korea’s economyMr. Kim has never made the kind of bold, market-driven changes that China and Vietnam implemented decades ago. Instead, he kept the country isolated, suppressing influence of outside information and impose strict control on the informal markets on which many North Koreans rely for their survival.

“Kim Jong-un was never going to be a reformer by Western standards,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “He puts his family interests above national security, prosperity and the rule of law, not to mention human rights.

When Mr Kim came to power ten years ago at age 27, many outside analysts called him an inexperienced figurehead, and some predicted he would not last. But he quickly established its grip on power through what South Korean officials have called a “reign of terror“, executing dozens of top officials – including his uncle, Jang Song-thaek – who were seen as obstacles to the establishment of a monolithic dictatorship.

Under Mr. Kim’s reign, North Korea became one of the few countries that could threaten the United States with a nuclear missile. Of the six nuclear tests carried out by the North, four were under its surveillance.

Mr. Kim’s government has also tested three intercontinental ballistic missiles that it says could deliver nuclear warheads to part or all of the United States. It was the growing nuclear threat from the North that in 2018 and 2019 forced President Donald J. Trump to meet with Mr. Kim three times, at the first summit talks between the two nations.

But the North Koreans have paid a heavy price for Mr. Kim’s nuclear ambitions.

The United Nations imposed economic sanctions that banned all of the North’s major exports. The country’s economy shrank 3.5% in 2017 and 4.1% in 2018, according to South Korea’s central bank estimates. He recovered slightly in 2019, but the pandemic then struck, forcing the North to isolate itself further. Its economy contracted again last year, by 4.5%.

Mr. Kim’s efforts to get the sanctions lifted collapsed in 2019, when his diplomacy with Mr. Trump ended without a deal. At a Workers’ Party convention in January, Kim admitted that his efforts to rebuild the dying economy of the North had failed.

There is no sign that North Korea is in danger from the kind of devastating famine it suffered in the late 1990s. But its grain output has only totaled 4.69 million tonnes this year, leaving a shortage of 800,000 tonnes, according to estimates released this month by South Korea’s Rural Development Administration. In July, the United States Department of Agriculture estimated that 16.3 million people in the North, or 63.1% of the population, were “food insecure.”

In the past, North Korea has filled its agricultural deficits with foreign aid and imports. But in response to the pandemic, he has foreign aid rejected and close its borders, making it more difficult to import fertilizers or farm equipment from neighboring China, the North’s only major trading partner and donor. The pandemic restrictions also hurt the country’s unofficial markets, allowing food to flow.

M. Kim’s emphasis on boosting food production indicates that North Korea will stick to its “self-sufficient” economic policy while it deals with the pandemic, analysts said. The North has also prepared for a prolonged diplomatic confrontation with Washington since the collapse of Mr. Kim’s diplomacy with Mr. Trump.

North Korea claimed it had no cases of Covid-19, and he has rejected offers millions of doses of vaccines, leaving its population vulnerable to explosive epidemics if its borders are reopened. He also rejected the Biden administration’s repeated offer to resume dialogue “without preconditions,” insisting that Washington must first end what the North calls its “hostile policies”, including the sanctions and its joint military exercises with South Korea.

At the same time, North Korea has resumption of missile tests since 2019, showing that he continues to develop increasingly sophisticated and nuclear-capable weapons – Mr. Kim’s most valuable lever against Washington.

At the party’s meeting this week, Kim said the conditions demanded that “the strengthening of the state’s defense capacity be further propelled with power without a single moment.” He also called tightening loopholes in the North’s campaign against the pandemic a “top priority”.

“Its extremely superficial mention of inter-Korean relations and foreign policy indicates that North Korea was not ready to make contact with South Korea or the United States in the New Year,” Cheong Seong said. chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute near Seoul.

“In the face of the pandemic, North Korea should continue to keep its borders closed, focusing on self-sufficiency and doing only the minimum essential trade with China,” Cheong said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Kim Jong-un's New Year's Resolution: More Food for North Korea
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