North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attended a meeting of the politburo of the country’s ruling Workers Party, where he discussed the development of the economy, and particularly the chemical industry, but did not address cross-border relations with South Korea, state news agency KCNA reported on Monday.
The two-day meeting comes as the global COVID-19 pandemic places additional pressure on North Korea’s economy, already battered by international sanctions aimed at stopping its nuclear programme.
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The meeting discussed “crucial issues arising in further developing the self-sufficient economy of the country and improving the standard of people’s living”, KCNA said.
The 13th political bureau meeting repeatedly stressed that the chemical industry was “a major thrust front of the national economy”, it said.
“He stressed the need to give top priority to increasing the capacity for producing fertiliser,” KCNA said, citing Kim.
After weeks of intense speculation about his health, KCNA reported Kim attended the opening of a fertiliser plant on May 1.
The meeting also emphasised the construction of residential houses as a way to improve North Koreans’ standard of living.
“Pointing out in detail the issues that have to be urgently settled to ensure living conditions of citizens in the city, the Supreme Leader stressed to take strong state measures for ensuring the living conditions of people including the construction of dwelling houses,” KCNA added.
Fewer public appearances
Kim has made an unusually small number of outings in the past months, with his absence from a major holiday prompting speculation about his condition as Pyongyang has stepped up measures against COVID-19.
Images released by KCNA showed Kim smiling and meeting senior officials of his government.
While North Korea says it has no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, South Korea’s main intelligence agency has said an outbreak there cannot be ruled out.
Meanwhile, the KCNA report made no mention of inter-Korean issues, after its criticism over activities in South Korea continuing to send leaflets and other anti-Pyongyang material across the border.
On Friday, the North’s United Front Department (UFD) handling inter-Korean affairs warned it could abolish the liaison office in the first in a series of measures that Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong had threatened to take unless Seoul stops the sending of such leaflets.
The two Koreas have signed several agreements aimed at reducing cross-border tensions, but few of them have been fulfilled.