Monday, 21 Sep 2020

North Korea to convene key party meeting on economy, military

State media says politburo of Workers Party will gather for sixth plenary meeting amid sanctions and flood damage.

North Korea plans to convene a key meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party on Wednesday to discuss economic and military issues amid international sanctions and recent flood damage, according to state media.

The politburo of the Workers’ Party will gather for its sixth plenary meeting to decide on issues of “crucial significance in developing the Korean revolution and increasing the fighting efficiency of the party,” the official KCNA news agency said on Tuesday.

The agency did not provide further details. 

The announcement of the meeting comes as the isolated country struggles to cope with flood damage after weeks of heavy rain on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rejected any outside help last week, despite state media reporting floods destroying 39,296 hectares (97,102 acres) of crops and damaging more than 16,000 homes. 

State media did not mention any deaths or injuries.

“The situation, in which the spread of the worldwide malignant virus has become worse, requires us not to allow any outside aid for the flood damage but shut the border tighter and carry out strict anti-epidemic work,” KCNA paraphrased Kim as saying on Thursday.

North Korea maintains it is coronavirus-free, a status widely doubted by outsiders.

In late July, Kim ordered a total lockdown of the border town of Kaesong after authorities reported finding a person with COVID-19 symptoms. North Korea later said the person’s test results were inconclusive and Kim lifted the town’s lockdown last week. 

Despite Kim’s rejection of any aid, South Korea’s unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said Seoul remains willing to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea.

Pyongyang in past months has severed virtually all cooperation with Seoul amid a deadlock in larger nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea, which faltered over disagreements in exchanging sanctions relief and disarmament steps.

North Korea in June blew up an inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, following months of frustration over Seoul’s unwillingness to defy US-led sanctions for its nuclear weapons programme and restart joint economic projects that would help North Korea’s broken economy.

Last year, Kim pledged to make a “frontal breakthrough” in the country’s campaign to build a self-reliant economy in the face of tightening sanctions aimed at curbing its nuclear and missile programmes.

But experts say the COVID-19 crisis likely derailed some of Kim’s major economic goals by forcing the country into a lockdown that shut the border with China – North Korea’s major ally and economic lifeline – and potentially hampered his ability to mobilise people for labour.

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