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Kim Jong-un calls for improving people’s lives amid economic woes

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers a speech during a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang. (KCNA-Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers a speech during a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang. (KCNA-Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un urged his party officials to improve people’s lives in the next five years amid a growing economic crisis aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, the official Korean Central News Agency said Monday.

“As set forth in the January congress, the five-year plan has to improve the living conditions, bring about a fundamental change and buttress a socialist utopia the world envies,” Kim said as he marked the anniversary of the regime’s ruling party on Sunday.

But Kim, who admitted at the January party meeting that his economic policy had failed amid a COVID-hit economy, said a stronger ruling party has prevailed from the last 10 years, with a more legitimate mandate to lead North Koreans and greater power to take on hostile forces.

The party-led order has to be the backbone of the country’s leadership, according to Kim. He did not address foreign policy or relations with South Korea or the US -- the two ties Kim is seen looking to take to another level as he seeks renewed momentum for engagement.

But Pyongyang has set conditions for talks to resume, saying it will return to negotiations if Seoul and Washington drop “double standards” and “hostile policy.” They mainly involve granting sanctions relief placed over the North’s nuclear and missile programs and greenlighting its weapons tests.

This week, Suh Hoon, South Korea’s top security adviser, is expected to meet with his US counterpart to coordinate their response, though most do not expect Suh’s trip will lead to a resumption of talks anytime soon.

The two allies agree on restarting talks but they are at odds over how best to make that happen and what agenda to bring to the revived talks.

Washington is against loosening sanctions to resume dialogue, asking the international community to enforce them strongly as long as Pyongyang keeps violating them. Seoul is willing to compromise on sanctions to jump-start engagement.

And South Korea wants to sign a declaration to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War armistice if North Korea returns to talks. The Moon administration believes ending the armistice paves the way for a long-term detente, but the US has not been receptive to the proposal.

“The declaration is a stepping stone to successful negotiations for North Korea’s denuclearization and an inter-Korean peace treaty,” President Moon said. Seoul and Washington’s combat readiness against Pyongyang will not be affected by the declaration, a political and not legal statement, according to Moon.

The US has said it is open to discussing it, without elaborating what that means, while North Korea said South Korea should drop the double standards and hostile policy before bringing the agenda to table.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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