In a rare bleak address to his country, leader Kim Jong-un has admitted governmental defeat to a mask-less Workers’ Union party in Pyongyang, revealing the nation’s 5 year economic initiative has ‘tremendously’ failed to meet goals in almost every anticipated area.
The economic policy rolled out in 2016 was the first since 1980, aspiring to strategically advance “…the Korean revolution on a higher stage” according to Jong-un, encompassing enhancement of living standards and developing North Korea’s nuclear weapons campaign.
According to The Guardian, Jong-un recognised ‘painful lessons’ for the country to learn from during these unprecedented times. This is significant, as taking responsibility for defeat is relatively unheard of by the secretive nation. It could be said this act of lifting the veil on North Korea’s vulnerability is symbolic for the nation’s future, since recognition of difficulties is a necessary first step in any path to recovery.
Indeed, North Korea is no stranger to economic turmoil. Famine, property damage following typhoon disasters and historical subjection to international sanctions following its unlawful pursuit of nuclear weaponry have all contributed to the country’s downward economic spiral.
However, the effects of COVID-19 have proved paramount in sealing the nation’s current position.
According to the BBC, North Korea closed its borders from foreign tourism in January 2020 and quarantined all non-nationals in Pyongyang, one of the first countries to actively demonstrate a knee-jerk reaction in the early days of the virus.
In his January statement, Kim Jong-un applauded his nation’s successful handling of COVID-19. North Korea’s scientific experts based at the nation’s Central Emergency Anti-epidemic headquarters have boldly claimed “not one single person” has suffered the virus’ effects.
Crucially, the country has evaded publicly confirming any existing cases. However, officials stationed in South Korea and beyond have contested the validity of this alleged success, particularly in light of reports issued to WHO concerning suspected virus hotspots, alongside the fact of its close trade relationship with China.
Moreover, in parallel to other countries, the inherent difficulties in a balancing act of combatting the risks to health while safeguarding the economy have visibly manifested. Since North Korea’s imposing of restrictions, data from China’s customs office evidences the ongoing trade disparity with North Korea, which witnessed a 71.9% reduction in 2020 comparatively to 2019 amid the difficulty of the latter exporting goods to its neighbour.
Ultimately, North Korea’s survival in the coming months hinges on a cautious governmental response, now seeming more likely with its transparency of the difficulties faced.