North Korea's ruling party to meet amid 'tense situation': state media

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea will hold a plenary session of its ruling party’s central committee on Wednesday, a day after leader Kim Jong Un chaired a politburo meeting to discuss ways to make progress under the “prevailing tense situation”, state media reported.

The plenary session, which occurs regularly, comes in the wake of Kim’s second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in February. Their meeting in Hanoi was cut short by Trump as the two leaders failed to reach any agreement over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program or international sanctions.

The ruling party officials will gather to “discuss and decide the new orientation and ways of struggle in line with the need of the prevailing revolutionary situation,” state news agency KCNA said on Wednesday.

In a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea on Tuesday, Kim told officials they need to work more responsibly to carry out his strategy in the face of international pressure.

“The Supreme Leader urged the need for leading officials to fully display a high sense of responsibility and creativity, and the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance and fortitude in an attitude befitting the masters of the revolution and construction under the prevailing tense situation and thus follow through on the new strategic line of the Party,” KCNA said.

At a plenary session last year, Kim formally announced a “new strategic line” of focusing on economic progress and improving North Koreans’ lives, rather than the previous two-pronged approach of both economic and nuclear weapons development.

While Kim used his New Year’s speech to warn he might take a “new path” if Washington maintains sanctions, South Korean officials said they do not expect this week’s meetings to lead to Kim shifting focus from the economy.

“We believe that last year’s new strategic line, the all-out focus on economic construction, will remain,” Baik Tae-hyun, spokesman for South Korea’s unification ministry said at a briefing on Wednesday.

Despite his failure to secure any sanctions relief at the Hanoi summit, Kim has continued to highlight his economic push in recent weeks.

Over the past week state media published images and reports of Kim visits to at least four economic projects in five days, including a remodeled department store, tourist resorts, and an economic hub near the border with China.

North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament is scheduled to meet on Thursday.

Wednesday’s ruling party plenary session comes as South Korean President Moon Jae-in flies to Washington to meet with Trump and try to jumpstart talks between North Korea and the United States.

“In a situation where it’s difficult to take a completely new path, they’re emphasizing self-reliance to show the U.S. that they can go their own way,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

“North Korea is targeting the U.S., sending a message that we will not back down, so the U.S. must change its stance.”

Reporting by Josh Smith and Joyce Lee; Editing by Michael Perry & Simon Cameron-Moore