North Korea opens rare ruling party congress: KCNA

Seoul (AFP) –


North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un opened on Tuesday a rare congress of the ruling Workers' Party, which is expected to set out a new economic and political plan, state media reported.

The congress is the first such meeting in five years, only the eighth in North Korea's history, and comes weeks before US President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Relations with the United States have been deadlocked since talks between President Donald Trump and Kim stalled.

Pyongyang is also under increasing financial pressure, as the coronavirus pandemic and floods over the summer put its flagging economy under yet more strain.

"The 8th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) opened in Pyongyang," the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

"The Supreme Leader reviewed the shining successes achieved by our Party and people in the period under review," it continued.

"He also analyzed the mistakes manifested in the efforts for implementing the 5-year strategy."

North Korea has suffered from chronic economic mismanagement and a previous plan was quietly scrapped earlier this year, with a party meeting in August concluding that "goals for improving the national economy have been seriously delayed".

In October Kim ordered an 80-day nationwide drive to boost the economy ahead of the January congress, featuring extra-long work hours and additional duties for workers.

A similar push happened before the seventh congress in 2016, which saw a new five-year economic plan announced, starting with a 200-day mass mobilisation campaign.

North Korea's economic plight has been worsened by international sanctions imposed in response to its ballistic missile and nuclear programmes, which have made rapid progress under Kim's leadership.

Nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and the Trump administration ground to a halt after the collapse of the Hanoi summit in early 2019 over sanctions relief.

The incoming US president has characterised Kim as a "thug", while Pyongyang has called Biden a "rabid dog".

By holding the congress before he takes office, Kim "may want to pre-empt rather than react to the Biden administration's policies," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

Kim's 2016 congress was the first in North Korea in 36 years.

State media broadcast pictures of hordes of suited party cadres and uniformed military officials descending on the capital, and the end of the congress was marked with an enormous civilian parade.