North Korea: Kim Jong-un’s mea culpa in front of his party congress

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The North Korean leader has issued a rare apology to his people. Kim Jong Un has thus admitted “mistakes” in the country’s economic development by opening the ruling party’s congress, the official North Korean agency reported on Wednesday (January 6, 2021). This congress is the first in five years and only the eighth in North Korean history. It is being held two weeks before US President-elect Joe Biden takes office, when relations with the United States are at an impasse.

Opening the 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang on Tuesday, “the Supreme Leader reviewed the brilliant successes achieved by our Party and our people,” the official North Korean agency KCNA reported. But, she added, “he also analyzed the errors that appeared in the efforts made to apply the five-year strategy for national economic development”, defined at the previous party congress in 2016.

North Korea suffers from chronic mismanagement of its economy, and the previous plan was quietly abandoned in 2019. In August, a plenary session of the Workers’ Party recognized that “the goals of improving the national economy have been seriously delayed ”. North Korea has also been hit hard by international sanctions designed to force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear and ballistic programs, which gained rapid strides under Kim Jong-un. It is also more isolated than ever, having closed its borders a year ago to protect itself from the coronavirus pandemic, which appeared in its powerful neighbor and main ally, China. Pyongyang assures that it has not recorded any case of Covid-19, which observers doubt.

“Internal solidarity”

Analysts said the congress, focused on domestic issues, should reaffirm the importance of “self-sufficiency” and announce a new economic plan. On Sunday, ruling party organ Rodong Sinmun called for unwavering loyalty to the Supreme Leader, saying a “spirit of unity” was needed to ensure a “victorious” year. The congress is the most important meeting of the ruling party. It is closely followed by analysts on the lookout for any sign of change in political orientations or the choice of elites. Kim’s sister – and her advisor – Kim Yo-jong is among the officials elected to the congress presidium, a sign of her growing influence.

The 7th congress held in 2016, the first in nearly 40 years, had made a major contribution to forging Kim Jong-un’s stature as supreme leader and heir to the Kim dynasty, in power for seven decades. The congress gathered this week shows, according to Ahn Chan-il, researcher at the World Institute of North Korean Studies in Seoul, an “urgent need for internal solidarity”. “The party convention must serve as a spark to restore the faith of a disappointed public,” he said. The congress was preceded by mass mobilization campaigns, asking North Koreans to work 80 days of overtime and take on new tasks to support the economy.

Military parade in preparation

With less than two weeks of the inauguration of new US President Joe Biden on January 20, North Korea could take the opportunity to send a message to Washington. “Trump gone, North Korea will reaffirm its traditional hostility towards the United States with a foretaste of its future provocations,” said Go Myong-hyun of the Asan Institute for Political Studies.

Between insults and handshakes, Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump had their ups and downs. But the latter has never inspired North Korea to hate Joe Biden, a “mad dog” who should be “beaten to death”. For his part, the president-elect called Kim Jong-un a “thug”.

Satellite images showed “preparations for a parade intensifying,” according to the 38North website, just months after Pyongyang presented a giant intercontinental ballistic missile. A parade had already been organized on the occasion of the previous congress in 2016 which took place over four days.

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