(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 9-12)
By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, April 12 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has presided over a political bureau meeting of the ruling Workers' Party, discussing anti-coronavirus measures and electing his sister as an alternate member of the bureau, state media said Sunday.
The politburo meeting held on Saturday suggests that a key session of the country's rubber-stamp legislature Supreme People's Assembly, which was supposed to take place on Friday, has been postponed for unclear reasons because a politburo meeting usually takes place on the eve of an SPA session.
The meeting discussed antivirus efforts, budget issues and other organization matters, and a resolution was adopted "on more thoroughly taking national measures for protecting the life and safety of our people to cope with the worldwide epidemic disease," the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
"It has become impossible to remove the danger of the virus infection in a short time and such environment can become a condition creating some obstacles to our struggle and progress," the KCNA said.
"Our country took strict top-class emergency anti-epidemic measures from the outset and established thorough-going organization, consistency and compulsoriness in the nationwide protective measures. It, therefore, has been maintaining very stable anti-epidemic situation," it added.
The politburo meeting also called for consistently taking "strict national countermeasures to thoroughly check the infiltration of the virus in the light of the development of the steady expansive spread of the worldwide epidemic disease," the KCNA said.
North Korea is among just a few countries in the world that claim to have no coronavirus infections, but many outside observers suspect that Pyongyang might be hushing up an outbreak.
Pyongyang has taken relatively drastic antivirus measures by closing its borders with China, where the coronavirus originated in late December. It has also toughened quarantine criteria and restricted the movement of people and goods.
The latest politburo session also discussed "matters of adjusting and changing some policy tasks in the work of implementing the decisions" made at a key ruling party meeting in December, according to the KCNA.
After the December gathering, the North unveiled a plan to set 10 goals to "stably" develop its economy, spawning speculation it could put forward a new blueprint to shore up its threadbare economy suffering from crippling sanctions.
But the novel coronavirus appears to have dealt an unexpected setback to Pyongyang's economic drive, forcing it to consider "adjusting and changing" policy tasks.
The North's anti-virus measures, including border controls, have dampened its push to bolster tourism and economic exchanges with its largest trading partner, China, while the return of its overseas workers, mandated by a U.N. sanctions resolution, has further dried up its hard currency reserves.
During Saturday's meeting, the North also elected members and alternate members of the political bureau, the Central Committee, the Central Auditing Commission and the Inspection Commission, including the appointment of Kim Yo-jong, the leader's younger sister, as an alternate politburo member.
Kim Yo-jong had been dismissed from the powerful bureau during a plenary session of the Workers' Party held in April last year, about two months after a no-deal summit between leader Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Photos released by state media showed around 30 politburo members and alternate members took part in the meeting, relatively smaller than previous gatherings apparently in consideration of the coronavirus fears.
North Korea earlier said that the SPA would convene a key session on Friday but there has been no word on the meeting, raising speculation that it might have been cancelled or postponed amid coronavirus fears.
North Korea usually holds an SPA session once every April to discuss domestic agendas and this year's meeting was expected to center on public health and economic issues aimed at cushioning the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The meeting also draws keen attention as Pyongyang could send a message to the U.S. amid a stalemate in denuclearization talks, which have stalled since the Hanoi summit.
It is unclear whether leader Kim would attend the SPA meeting. Last April, he joined an SPA session to deliver a policy speech for the first time since taking office in late 2011.
Meanwhile, state media also reported that Kim has inspected a "pursuit assault plane group" in the western area." Though it did not disclose details on when and where the inspection took place but it appears to have been held a day earlier and not far from Pyongyang given that he took part in the politburo meeting on the same day.
"He expressed great satisfaction to the pursuit assault plane group which is
reliably defending the territorial sky of the western area of the country," the KCNA said. "He raised important tasks for further enhancing the combat efficiency of the group after praising their efforts."
The inspection came days after Kim supervised a mortar firing drill on Thursday in what appears to be aimed at tightening military discipline amid the country's fight against the coronavirus.
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