North Korea is in its “worst-ever condition,” according to Kim Jong Un, who has urged “grassroots” members of the ruling Workers’ Party to be more pragmatic and responsible in implementing the country’s current five-year economic strategy.
The remarks, which were announced by state media on Wednesday, come as experts warn that Kim is about to face his toughest test as he approaches a decade in power, with North Korea’s coronavirus quarantine causing more damage to the country’s sanctions-stricken economy.
Kim made the remarks during an opening speech at a meeting of the Workers’ Party’s cell secretaries on Tuesday, according to North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency.
“Improving the people’s living standards … even in the worst-ever situation in which we have to overcome unprecedentedly numerous challenges depends on the role played by the cells, the grassroots organisations of the party,” Kim was quoted as saying.
He encouraged party members to carry out the decisions taken at a party congress in January, where he unveiled a new five-year plan and admitted that his efforts to boost the economy were failing.
Despite US-led sanctions, Kim pledged to strengthen his nuclear and ballistic missile programs at the January congress.
KCNA reported that 10,000 people attended the conference on Tuesday, including party cell secretaries from different sectors – mostly “exemplary ones” from production sites – senior provincial party leaders, and city party committee chief secretaries.
During his speech, Kim also chastised the party’s grassroots units for unspecified “weaknesses” that needed to be addressed right away to ensure the party’s “safe and sustainable” growth.
Party cells, which are made up of five to thirty members and manage work and life in factories and other locations, are the smallest units of party authority. The Workers’ Party relies heavily on the network to maintain its influence. The most recent cell secretaries’ meeting took place in 2017.
The economic losses have left Kim with nothing to show for his ambitious diplomacy with former US President Donald Trump, which came to a halt over differences over lifting sanctions in exchange for the North’s denuclearization efforts.
North Korea has so far declined an overture for talks from President Joe Biden’s new administration, claiming that Washington must first abandon its “hostile” policies. Pyongyang has also increased the strain by resuming ballistic missile tests after a year-long hiatus last month.