SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited a typhoon-ravaged rural town and lambasted government agencies for “defeatism,” state media reported Wednesday.
In his first public activity after massive weekend celebrations marking the ruling party’s founding anniversary, Kim inspected recovery works at the northeastern Komdok area, continuing recent visits to regions hit by typhoons and flooding this summer. Outside observers say Kim aims to boost public support as the disasters could likely aggravate North Korea’s economy under U.S.-led sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.
The Korean Central News Agency cited Kim as saying that Komdok’s typhoon-related damage was “more severe than he thought” and praised soldiers mobilized in rehabilitation projects for their devotion.
KCNA said Komdok’s damage was the worst among typhoon-hit areas. It said military units ordered by Kim had completed over 60% of construction of 2,300 dwellings.
KCNA photos showed Kim, clad in Mao suits, walking on an old railway track accompanied by officials, with buildings under construction seen in the distance. Other photos showed Kim speaking near small gray houses as officials and military officers took note of his comments.
In the past, when natural disasters hit North Korea, KCNA has often dispatched photos, sometimes doctored, of vivid scenes of damage, in an apparent effort to win foreign aid. But Kim said in August he won’t accept any outside assistance this year to maintain stringent border closures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Kim’s government has argued it hasn’t reported a single virus case, something foreign experts are highly skeptical of.
At Komdok, Kim said that there were still houses built more than 50 years ago and that his government “didn’t know properly the life of the people living in so piteous environments and dwellings.”
According to KCNA, he said “we have to seriously self-reproach ourselves.”
Kim said the army will be in charge of building new houses and turn the Komdok area a world-class mining town under a long-term development plan. He criticized national planning institutions that he said had become “very calculating … caught in defeatism and making a great fuss when the target worthy of the political attention of the country is set,” KCNA said.
In recent months, Kim has increasingly displayed candor in admitting policy failures and problems in his government, an unusual move in a country where his family is the subject of intense personality cult among its 25 million people. Some experts say this shows the severity of the economic difficulties Kim is facing.
Kim said in September that the overall anti-disaster condition in coastal areas is “poor” and that sea dikes were “not properly built.” Earlier, he said his country lacks modern medical facilities, and also acknowledged his economic development plans hadn’t been successful.