In Rare Display Of Contrition, North Korean Leader Admits Failures

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A man watches a television screen showing news footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending the 8th congress of the ruling Workers’ Party held in Pyongyang, at a railway station in Seoul on Wednesday.

Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

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Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

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In his speech, Kim offered few new prescriptions for resolving the crisis, except to continue «consolidating our own strength.» Nor did he offer any hints of how he plans to deal with the incoming U.S. administration of President-elect Joe Biden, or respond to South Korean Pres. Moon Jae-in’s attempts at engagement.

Biden has signaled that he intends to shore up the U.S.’s alliance with Seoul, and avoid the high-stakes summitry with Kim preferred by Trump. For that reason, says Park Hyeong-jung, a veteran Pyongyang watcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a government think tank in Seoul, Kim is likely to look elsewhere for support.

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«North Korea would think that however bad its economy gets, they will eventually be able to receive help from China,» Park notes, adding that Pyongyang may seek to leverage souring ties between Beijing and Washington to its own advantage.

For now, though, the China-North Korea border remains shut to keep out the coronavirus, and the lack of cross-border trade has reportedly caused food prices to spike in North Korea.

In most of the years since he assumed power following his father’s death in 2011, Kim has laid out his priorities in a televised New Year’s speech, closely parsed by observers. But he has not delivered such a speech for two years in a row.

This may have been to avoid duplicating speeches at major party meetings close to the New Year, but it also gives some observers the sense that things are not going well, and Kim has few accomplishments to trumpet.

Kim this year marked the New Year with a brief, handwritten note to the North Korean people, thanking them for their support in difficult times.

  • Kim Jong Un
  • North Korea

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