One thing you rarely hear from autocratic tyrants is any sort of apology or admission of error. That’s why it was rather startling to hear about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s speech to the Workers’ Party Congress that began yesterday. In his keynote address, Kim referenced the five-year plan the country enacted in 2016 and compared the actual achievements of his nation’s economy to the projections made at that time. The results, Kim was forced to admit, were far short of the projections. His own economic plans had failed. While clearly true, it was still shocking to hear him saying the words out loud. (Associated Press)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un admitted that his economic development plans have failed as he opened the nation’s first full ruling party congress in five years, state media reported Wednesday.
In an opening speech at the congress that began Tuesday, Kim said that the developmental goals set at a 2016 congress “were not met in almost all areas to a great extent,” according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
“We should further promote and expand the successes and victories that we’ve achieved through our painstaking efforts but prevent us from having the painful lessons again,” he was quoted as saying.
Kim announced a new 5-year plan to replace the failed one from 2016, describing “a fresh line of struggle and strategic and tactical policies.” That makes for a pretty good speech, I suppose, but the diminutive dictator didn’t offer anything in the way of specifics. While referring to several of the country’s major avenues of industry, there were no solutions offered to their stagnant productivity. North Korea is still staggering from being hit by multiple typhoons and serious coastal flooding that destroyed much of its fishing industry.
At the same time, the pandemic has closed the border with China, so trade and food relief were reportedly down by as much as 80% last year. There’s still a certain amount of smuggling that goes on, but the Chinese have largely stuck to a lockdown policy, leaving North Korea’s supply lines under a lot of strain.
If there’s some silver bullet out there that could inject fresh life and productivity into North Korea’s economy under its current leadership and strategies, it’s tough to see what it is. And the problems they are facing remain almost entirely of Kim’s own making. By refusing to give up his nuclear ambitions, Kim floods much of what little cash his government can scrape together into military programs while people are literally starving in North Korea’s more rural areas. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people are locked away in work camps, with most of them never being seen again. The government’s micro-managed control of agriculture has been a disaster for years, leaving farmers largely unmotivated to grow sufficient amounts of food because they are able to reap few benefits from their labor.
Kim Jong-un could end all of this with one wave of his hand. If he destroyed his nuclear weapons programs and welcomed IAEA inspectors into that hermit nation to verify it had been done, the borders would open, the sanctions would end and his people would have food. But he continues to refuse to do that. And since the state controls virtually all access to media and news, his people are raised to believe that their brilliant leader is fighting valiantly to save them from the evil Americans and the rest of the world that’s bent on destroying them. In such ways do real dictators hold on to power and it’s been working for Kim’s family for three generations now. It’s a tragedy, really.