North Korea focuses on economy in 2022 policy direction

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SEOUL, Jan. 1 (UPI) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made clear he will place policy priorities in 2022 on developing the national economy and bolstering antivirus efforts, according to Pyongyang’s state media Saturday.

He delivered the message during a major Workers’ Party plenary held earlier this week to set the policy directions for the new year.

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The North, however, stopped short of providing the outside world with fresh clues to its key policies related to inter-Korean ties and denuclearization talks with the United States, which the South Korean government construed as indicating Pyongyang will stick to the “existing policy line” under its five-year national development project.

Some experts here also said the Kim regime does not seem to be ready yet for the resumption of dialogue.

In the five-day 4th Plenary Meeting of the party’s 8th Central Committee, which finished the previous day, participants described the continued development of advanced weapons systems as a “very important” achievement for 2021. Kim attended the session.

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“The military environment of the Korean peninsula and the trend of the international situation getting instable day after day demand that bolstering the state defense capability be further powerfully propelled without a moment’s delay,” the Korean Central News Agency said in a lengthy report.

Among other agenda items were key policy directions for inter-Korean relations and foreign affairs “to cope with the rapidly changing international political situation and the circumstances in the surroundings.”

It did not give details on the results of relevant discussions.

South Korea’s unification ministry handling inter-Korean affairs noted the North has only mentioned “principled issues” and “tactical orientation” with regard to national security without elaboration.

The North appears to have decided to respond flexibly to different circumstances amid a “fluid international situation” and announce its key position, going forward, when necessary, it said in a press release.

“[North Korea] highlighted the strengthening of national defense capabilities in accordance with its own plan, but we take note of the fact that it did not mention strategic nuclear weapons,” the ministry said.

It added, “We will continue efforts to resume inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation at an early date so that we can have discussions on actually fostering peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

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Beginning a new year, the secretive North has often delivered major messages on inter-Korean ties and relations with the U.S. through state media reports on such a major party meeting or Kim’s special speech. It marked the third consecutive year for Kim to have skipped a New Year’s Day address.

The KCNA report on the year-end party session, intended to review last year’s policy accomplishments and set the direction of 2022 policies, focused instead on discussions on ways to develop the country’s economy and improve the people’s livelihoods.

The North again picked antivirus efforts as a “top priority” in national business.

“The emergency epidemic prevention work should be made a top priority in the state work and it is the most important work to be powerfully conducted with no allowance given to slight slackness, pores and drawback,” the KCNA said.

Pyongyang has imposed a strict border closure since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and claims to be coronavirus-free.

On the economy, the North rolled out a series of measures to develop the country’s agricultural sector as part of efforts to tackle chronic food shortages.

The North is estimated to be falling short by around 1 million tons of food every year, with the coronavirus-driven border lockdown believed to have taken a toll on the country’s already substandard food situation.

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On the second day of the plenary, Kim ordered “important revolutionary measures” to address the “rural questions,” suggesting they are among the most pressing tasks facing the country on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Kim’s rise to power Thursday.

The leader’s influential younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, meanwhile, was not included among newly elected members or alternate members of the ruling party’s powerful political bureau.

Speculation had been rampant over a possible change in her stature after she was seen standing alongside members of the politburo during a memorial event last month.

Kim used to play a key role in inter-Korean relations amid a stalemate in the Korea peace process, especially following the no-deal Hanoi summit between the U.S. and North Korea in early 2019.