North Korea is set to convene a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, on Friday, spawning speculation about what message it will deliver amid the global novel coronavirus pandemic.
It will be the 14th SPA’s third session, following the last in August. Around 700 officials will arrive in the capital for the meeting, during which the North revises its constitution, reviews the budget and conducts personnel reshuffles, among other tasks.
All eyes are on what leader Kim Jong-un will deliver during the high-profile session, as the country is putting all-out efforts to keep the COVID-19 virus off its soil.
During last year’s gathering, the North amended its constitution to solidify Kim’s power as head of state. A set of key policy changes and messages are expected to be announced at the upcoming session as well.
“We cannot predict what issues will be dealt with during the session,” Yon Sang-key, the Unification Ministry’s spokesperson, said in a regular briefing Monday. “We are keeping an eye on it.”
North Korea has insisted it has zero infections of COVID-19, which has spread to nearly every corner of the planet. Experts have cast strong doubt on the claim.
The regime has taken some of the most draconian actions against the virus, closing its borders in late January and halting business with neighboring China, its closest ally and the presumed origin of the novel pathogen. Experts have warned that if COVID-19 spreads to North Korea, its weak public health system may not be able to cope, as it lacks proper medical supplies, personnel and infrastructure to deal with an outbreak.
Economic issues could be high on the agenda, as the North’s China-reliant economy could be hit hard by a prolonged outbreak of the virus.
The meeting also arrives after the announcement last week of a new Foreign Ministry position in charge of handling negotiations with the US. Pyongyang’s denuclearization talks with the US have been on hiatus since last year.
By Ahn Sung-mi (email@example.com