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 Leader Kim Jong Un Warns North Koreans of ‘Hard Times Ahead’ 

This picture taken during the period of December 28 to December 31, 2019 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 1, 2020 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a session of the 5th Plenary…
Leader Kim Jong Un Warns North Koreans of ‘Hard Times Ahead’
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has warned his country about a difficult economic future.

Kim made the comments in his New Year’s message published Wednesday at the end of a four-day meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party.

The North Korean leader also seemed to reject the possibility of progress in talks with the United States on the country’s nuclear weapons program.

Kim expressed a new, tougher approach to the United States.

“We have to live under the sanctions by the hostile forces in the future,” Kim said.

Kim also threatened to restart intercontinental ballistic missile or nuclear tests. He warned the world would soon see a new kind of “weapon.” But his comments about his own country’s future also show a small change in his situation.

The failure of the February 2019 meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, with U.S. President Donald Trump may have hurt his influence at home.

“I think the failure of Hanoi created some…costs for him and those advocating for diplomacy with the U.S.,” said Andray Abrahamian. He is with George Mason University Korea. “They looked weak by asking for sanctions relief, now they’re signaling that they don’t need it.”

Hard-liners oppose talks

At the failed negotiations in Hanoi, Kim offered to dismantle some of the Yongbyon nuclear center. In exchange, North Korean negotiators wanted a lessening of sanctions that have severely hurt the country’s economy. Trump rejected the offer. This might have created embarrassment for Kim.

North Korea has been under United Nations sanctions for years and U.S. sanctions for even longer. The sanctions are part of an international effort to cause North Korea to end its nuclear weapons and long range missile programs. Trump has refused to reduce the sanctions until North Korea agrees to stop all of its nuclear weapons activities.

The failure in Hanoi created difficulties for North Korea’s small, but important, growing merchant class. It also strengthened the argument of the country’s traditional hard-liners. They are against negotiations that may cause the country to give up its nuclear weapons.

Kim’s statement may have been a call for loyalty.

Kim Jong Un’s message on sanctions was about accepting them, explained Jenny Town. She is a Korea specialist at the Stimson Center, a research group in Washington D.C.

‘Hard times ahead’

One important possible change could be a strengthening of North Korea’s byungjin policy. That policy calls for the country to work toward nuclear and economic growth at the same time.

The byungjin idea is very clear to North Koreans. It means doing with less to help the national economy, said Rachel Minyoung Lee. She is a North Korea expert with NK News, a website that reports on North Korea.

It means “hard times ahead,” she added.

Kim also called for a campaign against the small, private markets that have been growing during the last 20 years. This might make life even harder for North Koreans.

Duyeon Kim is a senior adviser for Northeast Asia and nuclear policy at the International Crisis Group. She says North Korea will now try to become a nuclear and economic power.

Kim’s speech did not completely reject nuclear negotiations. However, it did suggest a more hard-line policy in 2020.

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

VOA’s William Gallo reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

approach– n. a way of dealing with a problem

sanctions– n. an action taken to force a country to obey international laws by stopping or limiting trade

ballistic missile– n. a weapon that is shot through the sky over a great distance then falls to the ground and explodes

advocacy– n. supporting a cause or an idea

relief– n. removing or reducing something that is painful

dismantle –v. to take apart

hard-line –adj. tough and strong

embarrassment– n. the state of feeling foolish in front of others

merchant– n. those who buy or sell products