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Kim Jong Un's grand plan to grow North Korea's economy faces a harsh reality

Kim Jong Un's grand plan to grow North Korea's economy faces a harsh reality

Kim Jong Un's ambitious new plan for the next five years aims to develop North Korea's shattered economy, but the proposals may backfire amid major crises that have already stalled the young leader's current projects.

In remarks released this weekend, Kim blamed international sanctions, as well as unforeseen crises, including the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters, for preventing the government from improving people's lives, while criticizing officials for errors that need to be corrected.

He proposed to become less dependent on imports, grow almost all industries and reform the way civil servants work.

However, the new plan is unlikely to change the growing decline of the North Korean economy, making it difficult for Kim to deliver on his lofty promises and possibly reducing the resources available for prized military projects, Chad O'Carroll said, executive director of Korea. Risk Group, which monitors North Korea.

"(There is) no apparent interest in reform, easing sanctions or opening up the economy," he said in a post on Twitter.

Since Kim came to power in 2011, living standards for many North Koreans have improved as markets proliferated and consumer goods became more accessible. But now the country faces the most challenging situation since the famine of the 1990s, and projects such as resorts, economic zones and a large hospital seem stalled.

Kim's decision to host a big congress and talk about ambitious projects in the face of a severe shortage of many North Koreans shows how the government has "internalized its own propaganda," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

"The economic and social conditions in the country are worse than many outsiders appreciate," he said. "Kim tells people about him about internal shortcomings and promises improvements, but he is unlikely to adjust policies to get help."


The plan, which includes proposals for more advanced nuclear weapons, appears to be duplicating North Korea's "Byungjin," or parallel development policy, said Kang Dong-wan, professor of political science and diplomacy at Donga University in Busan.

"North Korea is returning to its 2017 plan: dual policy to enhance its self-sustaining and nuclear deterrent economy," he said.

The new five-year plan includes a long list of wishes to expand almost every category in the industry, from metal and chemical production to coal mining, tourism, modernized railways and more public transportation.

North Korea plans to invest in tidal and nuclear power plants, as well as "carbon-free buildings and zero-energy buildings in line with global architectural development trends," while the country's mobile communications networks should be converted in "the next generation" as soon as possible.

At least 50,000 apartments will be built in Pyongyang's capital and another 25,000 homes in the Komdok area, which is home to major mining operations.

Kim called for the capacity to produce 8 million tons of cement to support large construction projects.


Improving the economy cannot depend solely on solving external problems and will only be possible after "breaking with the current mistaken ideological point of view, irresponsible work attitude, incompetence and outdated way of working," Kim said.

North Korea's economy ceased to be completely centralized after many private markets and businesses emerged from government failures to provide services in the 1990s.

Analysts say those markets are here to stay, but there are signs that the government is asserting itself in ways that effectively roll back or reduce at least some of those reforms.

"The important tasks ... is to restore the leading role and control of the state in the general activities of the trade service and to preserve the nature of socialist trade in the service of the people," Kim said.

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