North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended his 10th year in power with a speech that more talked about tractor factories and school uniforms than Atomic weapons or the United States, according to state media summaries Saturday.
North Korea the main goals for 2022 will be a quick start on economic development and improving people’s lives as it faces a “big fight for life and death,” Kim said in a speech Friday at the end of the 4th plenary session in the 8th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), which began Monday.
The meetings coincided with the 10th anniversary of Kim actually taking over the leadership of the country after his father’s death in 2011.
Kim has used previous New Year’s speeches to make major political announcements, including launching significant diplomatic engagements with South Korea and the United States.
But summaries of his speech published in North Korean state media did not specifically mention the United States, with only a transient reference to unspecified discussions on inter-Korean relations and “external affairs.”
Download NBC News app for breaking news and politics
The domestic focus of the speech underscored the financial problems Kim faces at home, where he was self-imposed anti-pandemic border barriers has left North Korea more isolated than ever before, with international aid organizations warning of possible food shortages and a humanitarian crisis.
“The main task facing our party and people next year is to provide a secure guarantee for the implementation of the five-year plan and to create a remarkable change in state development and the living standards of the population,” Kim was quoted as saying.
Kim spent most of his speech describing domestic issues from an ambitious rural development plan to people’s dietary habits, school uniforms and the need to crack down on “non-socialist practices.”
The strong focus on rural development is likely a populist strategy, said Chad O’Carroll, founder of NK News, a Seoul-based website that tracks North Korea.
“Overall, Kim may be aware that revealing sophisticated military development plans while people suffer from food shortages and harsh conditions outside Pyongyang may not be such a good idea this year,” he wrote on Twitter.
Saturday’s state media report cited the development of “one ultra-modern weapons system after another” as a major achievement in the past year, saying Kim called for strengthening national defense to cope with an unstable international situation.
A tractor factory he discussed in the speech was likely used to build missile launchers, foreign analysts have said, and North Korea is believed to have expanded its arsenal despite the shutdowns.
The reports on Kim’s speech did not mention the US call for nuclear talks or South Korea’s push for a declaration to formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War as a way to restart those talks.
North Korea has previously said it is open to diplomacy, but that U.S. overtures seem hollow, while “hostile actions” such as military exercises and sanctions continue.