Kim rebukes officials as focus shifts to economy

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a factory in North Hamgyong Province. This month, he has toured industrial facilities and special economic zones near North Korea's border with China, often lambasting officials over delayed projects or lack
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a factory in North Hamgyong Province. This month, he has toured industrial facilities and special economic zones near North Korea's border with China, often lambasting officials over delayed projects or lacklustre modernisation of production lines.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

N. Korean leader's scoldings at industrial sites aimed at spurring economic growth: Experts

SEOUL • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's strident rebukes of officials during recent trips to industrial sites were aimed at rallying support at home for his economic drive and convincing outsiders about his willingness to denuclearise.

After racing towards his goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States, Mr Kim in April shifted his focus to the economy.

Last month, Mr Kim held an unprecedented summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore, where he lauded the city-state's economic progress and "world-class" amenities.

This month, the young leader has toured industrial facilities and special economic zones near North Korea's border with China, often lambasting officials over delayed construction projects or lacklustre modernisation of production lines, according to state media.

Mr Kim has openly slammed executives on previous economic field trips, unlike his reclusive father.

The latest criticisms appear an attempt to spur economic development nationwide - and shift blame to bureaucrats where progress has lagged, experts say.

"Now that economic development is made a main party line, he needs to show results but could have realised things were not so beautiful on the ground," said Professor Koh Yu-hwan of Dongguk University in Seoul.

"To the people inside, he's trying to say it's not the fault of himself or them, but that of the party executives, while encouraging ordinary citizens to work hard."

With nuclear talks with Washington under way, Mr Kim may also want to dispel suspicion about denuclearisation by highlighting his zeal for economic development.

Mr Kim made a broad commitment at the Singapore summit to "work towards denuclearisation", but did not give details on how or when he would dismantle the nuclear programmes.

"While trying to win the people's heart, Kim would want to show that he's making an all-out effort on the economy and he really means it, and defuse suspicions about denuclearisation,"said Professor Lee Woo-young of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

This week, Mr Kim blasted "shameless" and "pathetic" executives at a power plant site in north-eastern Hamkyong Province, after realising that only 70 per cent of construction had been completed since it started 17 years ago, the official KCNA news agency reported.

Earlier this month, he berated managers of a textile mill in the border city of Sinuiju for blaming the lack of raw materials and money, despite their poor work on the planned upgrade of the factory, according to KCNA.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2018, with the headline 'Kim rebukes officials as focus shifts to economy'. Print Edition | Subscribe