North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un told fellow Workers’ Party members that his country’s economy is experiencing "shortcomings" due to the coronavirus pandemic and U.S. sanctions, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
The economy has "not improved in the face of … severe internal and external situations," Kim told party members. Meanwhile, state-organized development plans have "seriously delayed and the people’s living standard [has] not been improved remarkably."
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While North Korean officials insist that Kim’s grip on power in Pyongyang is absolute, it is increasingly clear the country is struggling under his command.
Tough sanctions from both the United Nations and Washington have limited North Korea’s economic output, especially as leadership consistently chooses to invest in its nuclear program rather than the welfare of its people.
The flattened coronavirus economy combined with sanctions have put the North Korean economy in dire straits. Earlier this week, Kim requisitioned pet dogs from party elites, which some suspect are being used for the food supply.
Despite major setbacks, Pyongyang has been unwilling to come to the table on diplomatic talks. In recent months, North Korea has put its relationship with South Korea on ice and upended progress on trilateral denuclearization talks.
Experts expect that Kim is unlikely to negotiate on his nuclear program until after the U.S. presidential election. North Korea has issued veiled threats warning it may interfere in the November election.
"By January, [Kim] will know the result of the U.S. presidential election so [he] may update North Korea’s position on denuclearization talks," Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said.
"North Korea continues to expand its capabilities despite economic challenges and independent of diplomatic signaling. While much of the world is focused on the pandemic and contentious elections, the Kim regime is advancing its nuclear, missile, and cyber programs for coercion, not just deterrence," Easley added.