(ATTN: RECASTS expert's comments in paras 1-6, 14-15)
By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, Aug. 20 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un acknowledged that his five-year economic development plan failed to achieve intended goals and pledged to unveil a new scheme at a Workers' Party congress to be held in January, according to state media Thursday.
The timing of the rare party congress also suggests that Kim could use the session to announce a new policy line on the United States after watching who wins November's presidential election between President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden, experts said.
"The economy was not improved in the face of the sustaining severe internal and external situations and unexpected manifold challenges," Kim said while reading a decision reached at a plenary meeting of the party's Central Committee held Wednesday.
"Thereby planned attainment of the goals for improving the national economy have been seriously delayed and the people's living standard not been improved remarkably," Kim said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
It is rare for the North's leader to acknowledge a policy failure.
The current development plan was adopted when the North held a previous party congress in May 2016. It is supposed to be completed by the end of this year, but many suspect that many of its goals could not be achieved amid international sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic and other woes.
"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.
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.
"What could be the reason why the North decided to hold the party congress in January? By that time, the U.S. presidential election will be over and a new president will come in. There could be some clues available as to what North Korea policy under the next American administration would look like," Hong Min, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said.
"This might be highly politically orchestrated timing to put pressure on Washington in its North Korea policy," he added.
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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