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By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, Jan. 6 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has opened its first party congress in nearly five years, state media said Wednesday, amid expectations it will unveil its policy directions on economic development and foreign affairs for the next few years.
Leader Kim Jong-un delivered an opening speech for the eighth congress of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang on Tuesday, admitting a failure to meet its previous five-year economic development goals and calling for self-reliance in boosting the country's strength, according to the Korean Central News Agency.
"The five-year economic development strategy period wrapped up last year, but the results in most areas fell extremely short of our goals," Kim said, calling the past five years the "unprecedented" and "worst of the worst" time for the country.
"The surest and fastest way to tackle the current multiple challenges facing us is to make every possible effort to strengthen our own power and our own self-reliant capacity," he added.
The North Korean leader also said he will suggest "the key line of struggle and strategic and tactical policies" for "the cause of national reunification, promoting external relations and strengthening the work of the Party" during the congress.
The session has drawn keen attention from the outside world as the North is expected to unveil a fresh economic development plan and a new foreign policy line on the United States and South Korea ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration as the next U.S. president on Jan. 20.
North Korea has not issued any response to Biden's election as president. The North did not send any message on the U.S. and South Korea either at Tuesday's party congress.
It is the second party congress under the current leader, who assumed power in late 2011 following the death of his father Kim Jong-il.
The previous congress was held in 2016 for the first time in more than 30 years. During the session, the North announced its five-year economic development plan that ended last year and declared the "byongjin" policy of simultaneously seeking nuclear weapons and economic advance.
Kim has held three meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump, but denuclearization talks have made little progress since their no-deal summit in Hanoi in 2019.
Eyes are also on whether Kim's powerful sister, Kim Yo-jong, will be promoted to a higher position in the Worker's Party during the session.
The North has not made public the exact schedule for the party meeting, but it could last multiple days given that the previous congress was held for four days.
This week's event comes as North Korea has been faced with a triple whammy of the fallout of summertime back-to-back typhoons, a protracted border closure due to the coronavirus pandemic and global sanctions on its economy.
At the congress, 250 members of the party's leadership, 4,750 delegates and 2,000 observers participated, an increase from the previous session despite the coronavirus pandemic.
In photos released by state media, the event venue was seen packed with thousands of participants not wearing face masks. North Korea claims there has not been a single COVID-19 case on its soil.
Amid speculation over a possible military parade timed for the rare party meeting, U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams said Tuesday there hasn't been any signs of a major provocation as of now.
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