SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament has passed decisions made by a major ruling party meeting where leader Kim Jong Un vowed to bolster his nuclear deterrent and established plans to salvage the country's battered economy.
The North’s Korean Central News Agency said Monday that members of the Supreme People’s Assembly during Sunday’s meeting unanimously supported the development plans for the next five years that were revealed during the Workers’ Party congress that ended last week.
The assembly also approved a major reshuffle of the Cabinet, which Kim had criticized over failures in economic policies. KCNA said six of the Cabinet’s eight premiers were replaced.
North Korean premier Kim Tok Hun, who has led the Cabinet since August after his predecessor was sacked, said during a speech at the assembly that “serious mistakes” were observed while the Cabinet implemented the previous five-year development plan that ended last year.
Reports and images from state media suggested Kim Jong Un did not attend the assembly. State media also didn’t mention a reshuffling of the State Affairs Commission, the government’s highest decision-making body that is led by Kim.
Meetings of the Supreme People’s Assembly are usually brief, annual affairs that are intended to approve budgets, formalize personnel changes and rubber-stamp policy priorities set by Kim and the ruling party leadership.
During the party congress, Kim called for accelerated national efforts to build a military arsenal that could viably target Asian U.S. allies and the American homeland and announced a long wish-list of new sophisticated assets, including longer-range intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-powered submarines, spy satellites and tactical nuclear weapons.
But it’s unclear whether North Korea is fully capable of developing such systems. While the country is believed to have accumulated dozens of nuclear weapons, outside estimates of the exact status of its nuclear and missile program vary widely.
The North showcased some of its most advanced strategic assets during a nighttime military parade on Thursday, including what appeared to be a new ballistic missile that is being developed to be be fired from submarines.
In an article published last week on 38 North, a website specializing in North Korea studies, analyst Michael Elleman said that the new missile was similar in size with another submarine-launched ballistic missile the North rolled out during a parade in October. He noted that the new missile, which the North designated as “Pukguksong-5,” had a payload shroud that was slightly longer than the previous one.
“These dimensional similarities indicate North Korea is still in the process of settling on a specific design for its next-generation SLBM,” said Elleman, who projected the Pukguksong-5 to have a possible range of around 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) when completed.
But “there have been no reports of North Korea ground testing large solid-rocket motors recently, another indication that the Pukguksong-5 design remains on the drawing board," he said.
Analysts say Kim, with his repeated hardline comments, is trying to pressure the incoming U.S, administration of Joe Biden, who inherits stalled nuclear talks from President Donald Trump that imploded over disagreements over sanctions and disarmament.
Kim also used the congress to announce new national development plans for the next five years to salvage his broken economy. Some analysts say the prolonged sanctions combined with pandemic-related border closures and natural disasters that wiped out crops last year are possibly setting conditions for an economic perfect storm in the North that destabilizes markets and triggers public panic and unrest.