N. Korea’s Kim Calls for Improving People’s Lives Amid ‘Grim’ Economy

SEOUL (Reuters) -
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during an event celebrating the 76th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang, North Korea. (KCNA/via Reuters)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urged officials to focus on improving citizens’ lives in the face of a “grim” economic situation, state media reported on Monday, as he marked the anniversary of the country’s ruling party.

Art performances, galas and a fireworks show were held in Pyongyang to celebrate the 76th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea on Sunday, but no large military parade, which is sometimes held on such occasions, was reported.

North Korea‘s economy has been battered by years of sanctions over its nuclear and weapons programs, and heavy rains and floods have also taken a toll.

The country’s most vulnerable risk starvation after it slipped deeper into self-imposed isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the worsening humanitarian situation could turn into a crisis, a U.N. rights investigator said in a report seen by Reuters last week.

The country faces “huge tasks for adjusting and developing the state economy” and accomplishing the economic goals established in recent party and government meetings, Kim said in a speech, according to state news agency KCNA.

“The only way for dynamically pushing forward the unprecedented crucial work despite the grim situation is for the entire Party to get united,” he added, making no mention of the political standoff over its nuclear weapons.

Officials should not wish for privilege and preferential treatment, and “should always consider whether their work infringes upon the interests of the people or causes trouble to the people,” Kim said.

State media showed Kim addressing a room full of darkly dressed officials, with no major social distancing, masks or other anti-COVID-19 measures apparent.

The country has not reported a single case of the virus, but has imposed strict border lockdowns, movement restrictions and other measures.

State media broadcasts showed young people attending the gala, and other people laying flowers at statues of the country’s previous leaders.

The U.S. State Department on Thursday accused Kim’s government of being primarily responsible for the humanitarian situation in the country.

“The regime continues to exploit its own citizens, to violate their human rights, to divert resources from the country’s people to build up its unlawful [weapons of mass destruction] and ballistic missiles program,” spokesperson Ned Price told a briefing in Washington, while noting the United States supports efforts to provide humanitarian aid to North Korea.