North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un criticized his government’s performance and sacked a top economic official he appointed a month ago, noting that they did not come up with new ideas to save the economy in decline.
The report released by state media on Friday coincides with the most difficult period in Kim’s nine-year tenure. Diplomacy that expected to lift US-led sanctions over its nuclear program is stalled, and border closures due to the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters that devastated crops last year have compounded the problems of an economy broken by decades of political failure, including a famine in the 1990s.
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The closure of the border caused the volume of trade with China, the main lifeline of the North Korean economy, to fall by 75% in the first 10 months of the year. Raw material shortages reduced industrial production to its worst level since Kim came to power in 2011, and prices for imported foods such as sugar have quadrupled, according to the South Korean spy agency.
Some analysts argue that the current situation could create the conditions for a perfect economic storm that destabilizes markets and causes panic and unrest among the population of the hermetic nation.
These challenges have forced Kim to publicly admit that previous economic plans had not worked. A new five-year economic development plan was presented at the Workers’ Party congress in January, but the leader’s words during the Central Training Committee meeting that ended on Friday were fraught with frustration over the implementation of those plans.
In Thursday’s session, Kim lamented that the government is not fulfilling its role as key manager of the economy, noting that it was drawing up unworkable plans that do not show “innovative points of view or clear tactics.”
The government’s targets for annual agricultural production were too high considering the limited supply of agricultural materials and other unfavorable conditions. However, targets for power production were too low, he said, demonstrating a lack of urgency when cuts could halt production in coal mines and other industries.