Kim Jong Un says North Korea is facing its “worst-ever situation” and called on “grassroots” members of the ruling Workers’ Party to be more proactive and responsible in carrying out the country’s new five-year economic plan.
The comments, reported by state media on Wednesday, came as experts warn Kim is facing perhaps his toughest moment as he approaches a decade in rule, with North Korea’s coronavirus lockdown unleashing further shock on its sanctions-battered economy.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim made the comments during an opening speech at a meeting of the Workers’ Party’s cell secretaries on Tuesday.
“Improving the people’s living standards … even in the worst-ever situation in which we have to overcome unprecedentedly numerous challenges depends on the role played by the cells, the grassroots organisations of the party,” Kim was quoted as saying.
He urged members to carry out the decisions made at a party congress in January, where he announced a new five-year plan and showed unusual candour by acknowledging that his plans to improve the economy were not succeeding.
At the January congress, Kim also vowed to bolster his nuclear and ballistic missiles programmes despite United States-led sanctions.
KCNA said 10,000 people participated in Tuesday’s conference, including party cell secretaries from various sectors – mainly “exemplary ones” from production sites – senior provincial party officials and chief secretaries of city party committees.
During his speech, Kim also criticised the party’s grassroots units for unspecified “shortcomings” that should be immediately corrected to ensure the “healthy and sustainable” development of the party.
Party cells, which consist of five to 30 members, are the smallest units of party authority that oversee work and life at factories and other places. The network is an important tool for the Workers’ Party to perpetuate its power. The last conference of cell secretaries was held in 2017.
The economic setbacks have left Kim with nothing to show for his ambitious diplomacy with former US President Donald Trump, which collapsed over disagreements in lifting sanctions for the North’s denuclearisation steps.
North Korea has so far rejected an overture for talks from the new US administration of President Joe Biden, saying that Washington must discard its “hostile” policies first. Pyongyang has also dialled up the pressure by resuming tests of ballistic missiles last month after a year-long pause.