The COVID-19 pandemic has forced North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to do something neither of his predecessors before him ever had to consider: Be straight with the North Korean people. As difficult as it is to believe, Kim did exactly that. In the opening speech for the first ruling party congress to be held in five years, North Korea’s leader admitted that the five year economic development plan put in place at the 2016 congress has failed completely. “We should further promote and expand the victories and successes we have gained at the cost of sweat and blood, and prevent the painful lessons from being repeated,” Kim was quoted as saying.
Ostensibly, the reason for the congress being held this year is to develop new solutions to the problems facing the nation at present. 2020 has been year of multiple crises for North Korea. COVID-19, and related economic issues are now presenting Kim with the greatest challenge of his tenure. COVID-19 related border closings with China have severely curtailed the North’s economic mainline, continuing US sanctions, and the after-effects from a series of typhoons and severe flooding last summer have combined to form a perfect storm, so to speak. Kim Jong Un’s rule remains uncontested, yet given the present problems facing the North, he needs to show the people that he is a caring leader. His speech was intended to project that image and was fairly successful in that regard. The speech also serves to warn the North Korean populace of tough times ahead and assure them that their leaders are working to lighten the impact of these problems on the national economy, and the people.