SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un focused on domestic economic issues at a meeting of the politburo of the country’s ruling Workers Party, state media said on Monday, as the North ramped up pressure on South Korea over defector activities.
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks as he takes part in a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in this image released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 11, 2020. KCNA/via REUTERS
The two-day politburo meeting comes at a time of economic uncertainty amid the global COVID-19 pandemic that is putting additional pressure on the North’s economy, already battered by international sanctions aimed at stopping its nuclear program.
The meeting discussed “crucial issues arising in further developing the self-sufficient economy of the country and improving the standard of people’s living,” state news agency KCNA said.
Kim did not mention the North’s increased criticism of South Korea or of the North Korean defectors who call it home.
For several days, North Korea has lashed out at South Korea, threatening to close an inter-Korean liaison office and other projects if the South does not stop defectors from sending leaflets and other material into the North.
On Monday, North Korea did not answer a routine daily liaison phone call from South Korean officials for the first time in since 2018, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said.
The ministry has said South Korea remains committed to following inter-Korean agreements, and it is considering proposing legislation to ban groups from sending material into North Korea.
KCNA’s report on the 13th political bureau meeting focused on domestic economic issues, including the chemical industry and fertilizer production as “a major thrust front of the national economy.”
The meeting also emphasized construction of residential houses as a way to better North Korean’s standard of living.
Kim has made an unusually small number of outings in recent months, with his absence from a major holiday prompting speculation about his condition, as Pyongyang has stepped up measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although North Korea says it has no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, South Korea’s main intelligence agency has said an outbreak there cannot be ruled out.
Reporting by Sangmi Cha and Josh Smith; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Gerry Doyle