(ATTN: ADDS more info, experts' views throughout, photos)
By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, Aug. 20 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged to unveil a new five-year economic development plan at a rare congress of the Workers' Party to be held in January, state media reported Thursday.
Kim made the remark during a plenary meeting of the party's Central Committee, assessing "achievements and shortcomings" in the current five-year development plan ending this year and noting the country "faced unexpected and inevitable challenges in various aspects," according to the Korean Central News Agency.
The current scheme was adopted when the North held a previous party congress in 2016.
"The meeting discussed as the major agenda the issue of convening the 8th Congress of the WPK to set forth a new line of struggle and strategic and tactical policies on the basis of the requirements of our developing revolution and the changed situation," the KCNA said.
"The 8th Congress would review this year's work and the work of the Central Committee of the Party in the period under review and set forth a new 5-year plan for national economic development including next year's orientation of work," the KCNA quoted Kim as saying.
Kim noted the meeting will be convened to analyze "in a comprehensive, three-dimensional and anatomical way the deviations and shortcomings" in the implementation of the decisions made at the country's previous party congress.
The KCNA said the country's current economic development plan has fallen far short of its objectives as it failed to improve the lives of people in the face of tough internal and external circumstances.
The current five-year plan was unveiled during the seventh party congress held in May 2016, the first such meeting convened since Kim took office as head of state in late 2011.
It is supposed to be completed by the end of this year but many suspect that many of its goals could not be achieved due to global sanctions imposed on its regime.
The challenges have been aggravated by its prolonged fight against the coronavirus pandemic and recent heavy downpours, which wrought havoc on farming and houses across the country.
North Korea earlier aimed to complete major targets of the five-year economic development plan by Oct. 10 to mark the 75th party founding anniversary, but Pyongyang appears to have shifted its priority to antivirus efforts and restoration of flood-hit areas.
Kim told a politburo meeting last week that flood damage rehabilitation and restoration of living conditions should be carried out as "an important political work for celebrating the 75th birth anniversary of the Party as a genuine holiday of the people and a revolutionary holiday."
Experts said that it is unusual for North Korea to acknowledge its failure under an economic development plan, but what seems to be more noteworthy is the fact that the party congress was timed for the inauguration of the next U.S. president, a move possibly aimed at sending a message to Washington.
"The party congress takes place every five years, which means that next year's session technically should be held in May," Hong Min, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said.
"It appears to be timed to coincide with the inauguration of the next U.S. president, suggesting that it could determine its policy line after figuring out who will be in the White House," he added. "This might be highly politically orchestrated timing to put pressure on Washington in its North Korea policy."
Nuclear talks between North Korea and the U.S. have stalled since their summit early last year produced no deal as they failed to find common ground over how to match Pyongyang's denuclearization steps with Washington's concessions, including sanctions relief.
North Korea had urged Washington to change tack and make a new proposal by the end of last year. In late December, however, leader Kim called for a head-on breakthrough to tackle difficulties as there was little hope for any progress in talks to lift or ease global sanctions imposed by the U.S. on his regime.
Wednesday's party meeting drew keen attention as North Korea had said it would be held "in order to discuss and decide on an issue of crucial significance in developing the Korean revolution and increasing the fighting efficiency of the Party."
Observers expected the meeting would address organization matters and other issues closely related to the lives of people who have been under heavy strain from the antivirus fight and flood damage.
It was held for the first time in eight months since the North convened a rare multiday plenary party meeting in late December.
During the December meeting, leader Kim called for a head-on breakthrough to tackle difficulties as there was little hope for any progress in talks to lift or ease global sanctions imposed by the U.S. on his regime.
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