By KIM TONG-HYUNG
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea says leader Kim Jong Un attended groundbreaking ceremonies for new housing and farming projects, which are part of his push for domestic achievements as the country’s economic isolation deepens amid his defiant pursuit of nuclear arms.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim broke ground Wednesday for the construction of a huge greenhouse farm in the outskirts of the capital, Pyongyang, where senior North Korean official Jo Yong Won in a speech said that providing Pyongyang residents with “fresh vegetables in all seasons” was a “top priority.”
Kim also attended a ceremony marking the start of second-stage construction project to build 10,000 new homes in Pyongyang’s Hwasong district. The project is part of broader plans to supply 50,000 new homes in the capital under a five-year national development plan that runs through 2025.
Experts say North Korea has severe shortages in quality housing that deepened over decades of economic decay. But living conditions are much better in capital Pyongyang, where Kim in past years has pushed huge development projects that upgraded housing for elites and changed the city’s skyline.
Kim Tok Hun, premier of North Korea’s Cabinet, gave a speech encouraging the “army-civilian builders” to produce “eye-opening miracles in the construction of the capital city in the great era of Kim Jong Un.” He stressed that the construction should be “carried out without fail” in the face of unspecified “harsh difficulties.”
The ceremonies came a week after Kim Jong Un staged a massive military parade in Pyongyang where troops rolled out around a dozen intercontinental ballistic missiles — an unprecedented number despite limited resources while diplomacy remains stalled.
But the costs of Kim’s nuclear push appear to be piling up. North Korea’s ruling Korean Workers’ Party is planning to hold a major meeting this month to discuss the “urgent” task of improving agricultural production as outside experts and officials say the country’s food insecurity could be getting serious.
Already battered by decades of mismanagement and U.S.-led sanctions over Kim’s nuclear ambitions, the North Korean economy took a further hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the country to shield its poor health care system with stringent border controls that significantly reduced trade with China, its main ally and economic lifeline.
During a December political conference, ruling party members identified key economic projects for 2023 that emphasized construction and agricultural activities — focuses that are less dependent on trade as industrial production has been decimated by sanctions and halted imports of factory materials.
State media reports on the latest meeting of North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament in January hinted that Kim’s government was still struggling to revive the moribund economy.
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