North Korea's Kim Jong Un talks food not nukes as he marks 10 years in power

North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un ended his 10th year in power with a speech that mentioned tractor factories and school uniforms more than nuclear weapons or the United States, according to state media summaries on Saturday.

North Korea’s main goals for 2022 will be to stimulate economic development and improve people’s lives as it faces a “great battle of life and death,” Kim said in a speech on Friday at the end of the 4th plenary session of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), which began on Monday.

The meetings coincided with the 10th anniversary of Kim taking over the leadership of the country after his father passed away in 2011.

Kim used previous speeches around the New Year to make important political announcements, including making major diplomatic commitments with South Korea and the United States.

However, in summaries of his speech published in the North Korean state media, the United States was not explicitly mentioned, but only casually referred to unspecified discussions of inter-Korean relations and “external affairs”.

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The speech’s domestic focus highlighted the economic problems Kim faces at home, where self-imposed border locks from pandemics have made North Korea more isolated than ever, and international aid agencies warn of possible food shortages and a humanitarian crisis.

“The main task of our party and our people in the next year is to give a sure guarantee for the implementation of the five-year plan and to bring about a remarkable change in government development and people’s living standards,” Kim was quoted as saying.

Kim spent most of his speech discussing domestic issues, from an ambitious plan for rural development to feeding the people, school uniforms and the need to crack down on “non-socialist practices”.

The huge focus on rural development is likely a populist strategy, said Chad O’Carroll, founder of NK News, a Seoul-based website tracking North Korea.

“Overall, Kim may be aware that this year it may not be a good idea to reveal elaborate military development plans while people are suffering from food shortages and harsh conditions outside of Pyongyang,” he wrote on Twitter.

Saturday’s state media report named the development of “one ultra-modern weapon system at a time” as one of the major achievements of the past year and said Kim called for national defense to be strengthened to address an unstable international situation.

A tractor factory he spoke about in the speech was likely used to build rocket launch vehicles, foreign analysts said, and North Korea is said to have expanded its arsenal despite the lockdowns.

The reports of Kim’s speech did not mention the United States’ call for denuclearization talks, nor did South Korea’s call for a declaration to formally end the Korean War from 1950-1953 as a way to resume negotiations.

North Korea has previously stated that it is open to diplomacy but that American advances appear hollow while “hostile acts” such as military exercises and sanctions continue.

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