Kim Jong Un calls for nuclear strength, economic development as N. Korean congress closes

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SEOUL, Jan. 13 (UPI) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wrapped up a multi-day congress of the ruling Workers’ Party with calls for economic development and a powerful nuclear weapons program in a closing address, state media reported on Wednesday.

“Everything must be done to strengthen the nuclear war deterrent and to develop the strongest military force,” he said in his speech on Tuesday, state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.

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“We must raise defense science and technology to a higher level and unconditionally carry out munitions productions goals and tasks” over the course of a new five-year plan, he said.

Over the weekend, Kim called the United States North Korea’s “principal enemy” and said North Korea was looking to develop tactical nuclear weapons and large warheads able to “strike and annihilate any strategic targets within a range of 15,000 kilometers [9,320 miles] with pinpoint accuracy.”

The North Korean leader, who received the new title of party secretary on Monday, also called for urgent development of an economy that struggled mightily during 2020.

“Above all, we must wage a desperate struggle to carry out the new five-year plan for national economic development,” he said. “The construction of a socialist economy is the most important revolutionary task for which we must focus our efforts today.”

North Korea experienced severe economic hardships in 2020 due to ongoing international sanctions and prolonged border closings for COVID-19 prevention. Pyongyang took early action against the pandemic and sealed its borders in January, disrupting economic activity with its main trading partner, China.

North Korea’s trade with China plunged by 73% through the first nine months of 2020, according to a report last month by the Korea International Trade Association, and was on pace to fall by 80% for the year.

The isolated country was also battered by a series of late-summer typhoons that caused flooding and major damage to buildings, roads and crops.

Kim admitted in his opening address at the party congress last week that North Korea “fell incredibly short” of the five-year economic goals set out at the previous congress held in 2016.

“The central task of the new five-year plan for national economic development is to focus on metal and chemical industries as key links for economic development,” Kim said in his closing address. He also stressed localizing the development of raw materials used in light industry such as the production of consumer goods.

The North Korean leader addressed the food shortages that have plagued the country, saying the government “would continue to focus on agricultural production and solve the people’s food problem.”

“The new five-year plan must be more active in agriculture and increase national investment to unconditionally achieve grain production goals,” Kim said.

The United Nations said in 2019 that more than 10 million North Koreans, or 40% of the population, are food insecure. Last month, South Korea’s agriculture ministry estimated that North Korea’s combined crop production fell by 5.2% in 2020, due largely to the poor weather conditions.

In a separate report in state media on Wednesday, Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, slammed the South Korean military for announcing on Monday that it was closely following a military parade it had detected in Pyongyang, calling it a “clear expression of the [S]outh Korea authorities’ hostile approach.”

“We are only holding a military parade in the capital city, not military exercises targeting anybody nor launch of anything,” she said in a statement carried by KCNA. “Why do they take trouble craning their neck to follow what’s happening in the [N]orth?”

“The [S]outherners are a truly weird group hard to understand,” she said. “They are the idiot and top the world’s list in misbehavior as they are only keen on things provoking world laughter.”

The statement from Kim Yo Jong came days after she was conspicuously absent from a list of politburo members released during the party congress, leading to widespread speculation that she had been demoted.

While she still appears to be handling inter-Korean affairs, a role she began last spring, Kim is referred to as to “vice department director” of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party in her latest statement — a seeming downgrade from her previous title of first vice department director.