SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un praised what he called achievements and victories that have strengthened national power and raised the country’s prestige this year, as he opened a political meeting key to setting new policy goals for 2024, state media reported on Wednesday.
Experts said that at the ruling Workers’ Party’s year-end plenary meeting this week, North Korea would likely tout its progress in weapons development because the country lacks economic achievements amid persistent international sanctions and economic difficulties linked to the pandemic.
In his opening speech at the meeting that began Tuesday, Kim defined 2023 “as a year of great turning point and great change in both name and reality, in which (North Korea) left a great mark in the glorious course of the country’s development.” efforts to improve national power and raise the country’s prestige,” according to the official Korean News Agency.
KCNA said North Korea has made rapid progress in its defense capabilities this year with the launch of its first military spy satellite in November and the introduction of other sophisticated weapons.
KCNA said North Korea also reported a rare good harvest this year, as the country completed construction of new irrigation facilities ahead of schedule and achieved key state agricultural goals. Modern streets, new houses and other buildings have been built in Pyongyang and elsewhere in the country.
The Workers’ Party meeting, expected to last several days, will review this year’s state plans and set new goals for next year. In recent years, North Korea has released the results of its meeting, including Kim’s closing speech, to state media on Jan. 1, allowing him to skip his New Year’s speech.
The meeting comes after North Korea launched its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile, the solid-fueled Hwasong-18, into the sea last week, designed to strike the United States mainland. North Korea said the Hwasong-18 launch, the third of its kind this year, was intended to warn the United States and South Korea of their confrontational actions against North Korea.
On Nov. 21, North Korea launched its first military spy satellite into orbit, although outside experts question whether it can send militarily useful high-resolution images.
The launches of the Hwasong-18 missile and spy satellite were part of a series of ongoing weapons tests by North Korea since last year. Kim has maintained that he has been forced to expand his nuclear arsenal to deal with growing hostilities from the United States and its allies toward the North, but foreign experts say he hopes to eventually use an expanded arsenal to obtain greater external concessions when diplomacy resumes.
Last Thursday, South Korean Defense Minister Shin Wonsik told lawmakers that North Korea appeared to be speeding up its weapons testing activities to showcase its achievements in defense sectors as it lacked major progress in the economy and people’s livelihoods.
In recent years, North Korea’s fragile economy has been hit hard by pandemic restrictions, U.S.-imposed sanctions and the North’s mismanagement. But monitoring groups say there are no signs of a humanitarian crisis or social chaos that could threaten Kim’s absolute rule over the country.
In August, South Korea’s national intelligence service told lawmakers that North Korea’s economy had shrunk every year between 2020 and 2022 and that its gross domestic product last year was 12% lower than in 2016.