Coronavirus restrictions that have significantly limited his public appearances. Warning signals for an economy battered by pandemic-related border closings, natural disasters, and international sanctions. The impending departure of a US president who said he “fell in love” with him. As North Korean leader Kim Jong Un grapples with the toughest challenges of his nine-year rule, he’s set to open a massive ruling Workers’ Party congress next month to try to muster stronger public loyalty to him and lay out new economic and foreign policies, per the AP. While few question Kim’s grip on power, things could get worse, especially if the world fails to find a quick way out of the COVID-19 crisis. That would prolong North Korea’s self-imposed lockdown and possibly set conditions for an economic perfect storm that triggers panic among the public.
The congress, the first in five years, is the ruling party’s top decision-making body. At the 2016 congress, Kim put himself in front, reaffirming his commitment to developing nuclear weapons and announcing an ambitious economic development plan. Five years later, experts say Kim doesn’t have many options other than to further squeeze his populace for more patience and labor. Think tank analyst Lim Soo-ho says if the pandemic continues for most of 2021, the North’s economy could face a crisis unseen since a devastating famine that killed hundreds of thousands of North Koreans in the 1990s. However, the North is holding a big trump card. Experts say China will help North Korea because it won’t likely let its neighbor suffer a humanitarian disaster that could cause a refugee influx over its border.
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