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N.K. leader could skip New Year's Day speech ahead of party congress: experts

All News 14:55 December 28, 2020

By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, Dec. 28 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could skip a New Year's Day address later this week because he could unveil policy directions at a Workers' Party congress expected to convene in the coming weeks, experts said Monday.

Kim has delivered a televised speech on Jan. 1 almost every year since he took power following the death of his father in 2011 to put forth his annual policy plans and directions. The speech has been closely watched for signs of where the reclusive country could be headed for the following year.

Kim, however, skipped such an annual address early this year, replacing his message with a speech at a party meeting held late in the previous year.

Experts said he could skip this year's address too because any message from the address could come as distraction from what he will announce during a party congress set to convene in January for the first time in four years.

"Rather than repeating what he has to say twice, he would think that it would be effective to focus his entire message on the upcoming party congress," said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University.

The North has been preparing to hold the party congress, though it has not specified the exact date for the gathering. Kim earlier acknowledged a failure in his current economic development plan and said he would put forward a new development plan during the congress.

The party congress has been drawing particularly keen attention from the outside as the North could also announce its long-term policy lines on denuclearization and frozen inter-Korean relations. Kim is expected to attend the congress and deliver a speech.

Some expected that Kim might send his New Year's message through state newspapers, not a televised speech, as was the case in 2012, the first year in office, in a way to minimize distraction to the party congress.

It still remains to be seen whether Kim will skip his annual speech.

Experts said that Kim could deliver a New Year's message short on policy details but long on pep talk for his people suffering from typhoons, the coronavirus pandemic and global sanctions throughout this year.

"Kim's speech, if delivered, might be focused on his gratitude for people going through the triple-whammy challenges and console their suffering rather than dealing with details on policies," said Hong Min, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a state-run think tank.

In this image from a Korean Central News Agency broadcast, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers his televised New Year's speech on Jan. 1, 2019. He gave the speech sitting in a dark leather armchair in an office, an unusual detail for his annual speeches. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution.) (Yonhap)


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