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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 8)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:17 January 08, 2021

Admitting economic failure
North Korea should return to dialogue

North Korea's economy appears to be in a far more serious situation than had been previously thought, with its leader Kim Jong-un admitting to the failure of the country's five-year development plan which ended last year.

At the opening session of the eighth congress of the ruling Workers' Party, Tuesday, Kim said the country's achievements over the past five years fell far short of its development goals. Given the nature of the North's rigid regime and closed society, it is unusual for its leader to acknowledge such a policy failure. As such, his remarks reflected the hard reality.

In fact, the North has been undergoing a triple whammy: the devastating consequences of typhoons last summer; a drawn-out border closure amid the COVID-19 pandemic; and crippling international sanctions. The more the country is isolated, the gloomier the economic outlook becomes. It can be said that the North Korean leadership has caused economic hardship due to its misguided policies.

In the previous party congress in 2016, the North adopted the "byongjin" policy of developing nuclear weapons and making economic advances simultaneously. It achieved one of the two goals by conducting nuclear tests and launching intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). But it failed to achieve economic development. This shows how difficult it is to reconstruct a moribund economy while pouring a large sum of money into becoming a nuclear weapons state.

Kim should learn a lesson from his economic failure. The key point is that North Korea cannot revive its struggling economy without ending its isolation. It is a delusion to create a self-reliant economy while escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula with nuclear threats.

The North destroyed an inter-Korean liaison office in the border town of Gaeseong last June. Its military killed a South Korean fisheries official who drifted into North Korean waters in the West Sea in September.

Such incidents have further deteriorated inter-Korean ties which had already been stalled since Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump failed to strike a denuclearization deal in their second summit in Hanoi in February 2019. We urge the Kim regime to return to dialogue with the South and the U.S. to find a negotiated solution to the nuclear showdown.

It is disappointing for Kim to repeat his pledge to strengthen his country's military capabilities at the party congress Wednesday. Yet he refrained from using provocative words such as nuclear arms development and war deterrent. Probably he was trying not to irritate the U.S. before President-elect Joe Biden takes office Jan. 20.

The party congress is drawing attention as North Korea may come up with a new foreign policy during the ongoing session. We hope Pyongyang will change its hardline stance and restart nuclear negotiations with the incoming Biden administration. Kim must keep in mind that he cannot realize economic revival without taking a path to denuclearization and peace.

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