In comments reported on Thursday by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), hours before South Korean President Moon Jae-in meets his US counterpart Donald Trump in Washington, Kim says he would double down on efforts to create a self-supporting national economy.
This, Kim was reported as saying, was “to deal a telling blow to the hostile forces who go with bloodshot eyes miscalculating that sanctions can bring [North Korea] to its knees.”
The remarks were Kim’s first official comments on the country’s position since the failed Vietnam summit with the US in February. The comments also signalled Pyongyang’s focus on economic development following its failure to get sanctions relief from the US at the same summit.
State media have published images and reports of Kim’s visits to at least four economic projects in five days over the past week, including a remodelled department store, tourist resorts and an economic hub near the China border.
On Wednesday, the North Korean leader mentioned “self-reliance” 27 times during a plenary session of the Central Committee of the ruling party.
He went on to say that “self-reliance and self-supporting national economy are the bedrock of the existence of our own style of socialism, the motive power of its advance and development and the eternal lifeline essential to the destiny of our revolution”.
“North Korea made a fatal mistake in Hanoi to reveal that its Achilles’ heel is sanctions,” Hong Min, director of the North Korea research office at the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), told Al Jazeera.
“Following that summit, the US strengthened its assumption that sanctions on North Korea are the most useful leverage.
“With Kim’s excessive emphasis on self-reliance, North Korea virtually acknowledged that its negotiating strategy was a failure. Its mistake in Hanoi was to have set a frame of denuclearisation versus lifting of the sanctions.
“It should have set a strategy to exchange denuclearisation for the US guarantees of its regime security.”
President Moon, meanwhile, has suggested that sanctions could be eased to allow inter-Korean economic engagement in return for some nuclear concessions by North Korea, a request Washington has not agreed to so far.
In his comments, Kim made no mention of nuclear weapons, nor did he criticise Trump, according to KCNA.
“Kim said North Korea would take an independent course if the US does not lift sanctions. It is empty rhetoric. He would not resume missiles testing,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asian Institute for Policy in Seoul.
Meanwhile, in the meeting of the rubber-stamp parliament Supreme People’s Assembly on Thursday, a party personnel reshuffle was on the cards.
North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, one of the leading negotiators with the United States, was included in a list of officials “directly appointed” as members of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea’s Central Committee on Wednesday.
Analysts said Kim would not censure officials for their mistakes in the Vietnam summit as that would send a signal to North Korean people that they had failed.