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[Newsmaker] N. Korea touts economic progress as party anniversary nears

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (center) inspects flood relief in Kangwon Province, Oct. 2, 2020. (Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (center) inspects flood relief in Kangwon Province, Oct. 2, 2020. (Yonhap)
North Korea on Monday celebrated its economic achievements as it geared up for the anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party on Saturday, at a time when its economy is faltering under UN-led sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic and the aftereffects of recent floods.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency and its state newspaper released extensive coverage of what it called a “remarkable” recovery from the floods, saying hundreds of new homes and public facilities such as power plants had been built in affected areas.

An unveiling ceremony for a pharmaceutical factory in Chagang Province, bordering China, was also reported in depth, with a key party member quoted as saying it would defend residents’ lives and health against infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

The isolated country is seen trying to rally the public, potentially frustrated over flood damage that has only added to its coronavirus woes, behind leader Kim Jong-un, who appears set to stage a show of force at a military parade on the Oct. 10 anniversary.

Meanwhile, Kim has not responded to President Moon Jae-in’s call a week ago for a joint investigation into the shooting death of a Seoul fisheries official in North Korean waters at the hands of the North’s troops.

Pyongyang has also not answered Seoul’s suggestion that the two sides reopen a military hotline that has been suspended since June this year, when the North blew up the inter-Korean liaison office to protest anti-Kim leaflets being flown across the border from here.

The two sides offer contradictory accounts of the event: Seoul claims the official was killed while attempting to defect to the North and his body was burned afterward, but Pyongyang contends he was intruding and that only the objects he was floating on were incinerated.

Kim expressed regret in a statement that Moon said carried “special significance.”

But Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, told Voice of America that Kim’s statement was not an actual apology because he defended the actions of the guards who killed the Seoul official.

The UN rapporteur described the shooting as an “arbitrary killing” of a civilian posing no imminent threat, which he said constitutes a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions with respect to the right to life.

“Legalese aside, it’s beyond civility,” said Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense and Security Forum.

By Choi Si-young (