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Kim Jong Un urges ‘big leap foward’ at rare North Korea congress

North Korea's Kim Jong Un. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un kicked off the country’s first ruling party congress in five years, saying that its economic development plan fell far short of goal and that the party would explore a “new path” for making a “big leap forward.”

The start of the dayslong Workers’ Party Congress came shortly after Kim skipped his usual New Year’s Day address to lay out his policy agenda. In remarks to open the congress Tuesday, Kim said that the country’s five-year economic development plan, which ended last year, missed its targets by a “great degree” as both “internal and external challenges are undermining its progress,” according to the Korean Central News Agency.

Kim also said the party would explore a “new path” for making a “big leap forward” but KCNA did not disclose if Kim had specified what the path would be other than that the party congress would lay the groundwork for building a stronger nation and improving living standards.

The gathering of 5,000 delegates and party officials is being closely watched for clues to how Kim plans to bolster his shrinking economy and approach the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden. There was no mention of the president-elect in the initial accounts of the event published by KCNA.

The meeting, where Kim is also expected to name leadership changes, comes as his sanctions-squeezed economy was dealt further blows by natural disasters and Kim’s decision to shut his borders due to the coronavirus. North Korea’s gross domestic product likely shrank by 8.5% in 2020, according to a projection by Fitch Solutions, leaving it smaller than when Kim took power in 2011 with a pledge to improve people’s living standards.

Kim is one of the few world leaders yet to congratulate — or even acknowledge — Biden’s defeat of President Donald Trump, who dispensed with decades of American foreign policy to hold three meetings with the North Korean leader.

Kim’s most recent public speech — at a military parade in October — featured a rare show of emotion, with the leader appearing to cry as he talked about the country’s economic struggles under international sanctions. He also rolled out several new weapons designed to strike U.S. and allied forces, including what is believed to be the world’s largest road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile.

Another military parade may be planned around the time of the congress, with satellite imagery showing army vehicles amassing near a Pyongyang staging ground used ahead of previous parades, the NK News website reported Thursday.

Biden’s camp has signaled more room for negotiations, and the president-elect’s choice for secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has backed a negotiated settlement with North Korea that first freezes and then rolls back its nuclear program in return for rewards.

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