Triple Typhoons Wash Out Kim Jong Un’s Plans to Showcase Success

North Korea suffered destruction to swaths of infrastructure from the most recent typhoon to hit the country, prompting leader Kim Jong Un to reconsider major projects planned for this year, state media reported.

Kim told a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of “unexpected damage” from a typhoon that hit this week, the official Korean Central News Agency reported Wednesday. It was the most recent of three typhoons since late August that have walloped a sanctions-hit economy, indicating a difficult time ahead at home for Kim while he seeks a strategy for nuclear talks with the U.S.

“We are faced with the situation in which we cannot help but change the direction of our struggle after comprehensively considering the year-end tasks that were under way with the nationwide efforts,” Kim was quoted as saying.

For more on North Korea:
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  • How Kim Jong Un Keeps Advancing His Nuclear Program: QuickTake

The message came on what is typically a festive day in North Korea, when it celebrates the Sept. 9, 1948 anniversary of its national foundation. It also puts a damper on the next big event, the 75th anniversary of the foundation of its Workers’ Party on Oct. 10. Kim planned to open his showcase Pyongyang General Hospital on that day, but in July indicated that project was facing problems — likely due to sanctions that have made it more difficult to obtain materials from overseas and limited access to hard currency.

Party members were told of some of the damage caused by the most recent typhoon in areas of South Hamgyong province, northeast of Pyongyang, KCNA said, with data showing it destroyed more than 2,000 homes, affected mining, wiped out rail lines, caused 59 bridges to collapse and led to a “total paralysis of transport system.”

The typhoons hit before North Korea brought in the bulk of its harvest and are expected to exacerbate food insecurity in a country where the United Nations World Food Program says about 40% of the population is undernourished.

North Korea’s anemic economy has been hit by tough sanctions to punish it for nuclear and missile tests in 2017. Even before the typhoons hit, Kim’s decision to shut borders in January due to the coronavirus slammed the brakes on the little legal trade it had, putting the economy on a path for its biggest contraction in more than two decades, according to Fitch Solutions.

A weaker economy could decrease Kim’s leverage in nuclear negotiations that started with U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018, making it more difficult for him to achieve the sanctions relief he wanted in exchange for scaling back his nuclear weapons program.

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