North Korea's Kim seeks to level up 'huge' gaps in living standards

Agence France-Presse
North Korea's Kim seeks to level up 'huge' gaps in living standards
This picture taken on Jan. 6, 2021 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Jan. 7, 2021 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaking during the second day of the 8th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang.

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for "leveling up" the living standards of rural areas, saying a failure to provide necessities, including food, was a "serious political issue", state media said Thursday.

Nuclear-armed North Korea has a fragile economy and its government has long been criticised for prioritising the military and its banned weapons programmes over adequately providing for its people.

The North has periodically been hit by famine, with hundreds of thousands of people dying -- estimates range into the millions -- in the mid-1990s.

"Today, failure to satisfactorily provide the people in local areas with basic living necessities including condiments, foodstuff and consumption goods has arisen as a serious political issue that our Party and government can never sidestep," Kim said, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The KCNA report said Kim had presided over a meeting of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea on Tuesday and Wednesday where regional development topped the agenda.

The overall regional economy was in "a terrible situation", Kim said, noting "severe imbalance and huge gaps" between the regions.

He called for swift changes to close the gap between urban and rural areas, saying it was a "very important, responsible and timely option" under the party's regional development policy announced this month.

"At present, it is a very urgent immediate task for leveling up the material and cultural living standards of the regional people," Kim said.

"We should not sit by and wait till the situation and conditions turn favorable but find more jobs to be faithful to our duty for the sake of the people," he said.

Experts say North Korea's dire economic situation has worsened since Pyongyang sealed its borders in 2020 as a Covid-19 pandemic precaution, with its trade deficit increasing and foreign currency reserves being run down.

North Korea has nonetheless accelerated weapons testing this year, including tests of what it called an "underwater nuclear weapon system" and a solid-fuelled hypersonic ballistic missile.

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