North Korea opened a key political conference with leader Kim Jong-un in attendance to discuss improving its struggling economy and reviewing defence strategies in the face of growing tensions with rivals, according to state media reports.

The enlarged plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ party’s central committee came as the US sent a nuclear-powered submarine to South Korea in the allies’ latest show of force against the North, which has ramped up its testing of nuclear-capable missiles to a record pace in recent months.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken held a call with South Korean foreign minister Park Jin ahead of his visit to China. The two discussed bilateral relations, relations between China and South Korea, and North Korea.

Blinken and Park strongly condemned what they consider North Korea’s repeated provocations in a statement released by South Korea’s foreign ministry. The two agreed the US, South Korea and Japan should continue to urge China to play a constructive role in the UN security council on denuclearisation.

During the first day of meetings Friday, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said, party officials reviewed the country’s economic campaigns for the first half of 2023, and discussed foreign policy and defence strategies to “cope with the changed international situation”.

The KCNA didn’t specify what was discussed or mention any comments made by Kim. It said the meeting will continue for at least another day.

The arrival on Friday of the USS Michigan in the South Korean port of Busan came a day after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into its eastern seas in response to US-South Korean live fire drills that took place near the inter-Korean border this week.

The US and South Korean navies are planning to conduct exercises focused on sharpening their special operation and joint combat capabilities.

Pyongyang has condemned the allies’ combined exercises as invasion rehearsals. North Korea has used the expanding US-South Korean drills as a pretext to ramp up its own weapons demonstrations, including test-firing about 100 missiles since the start of 2022.

Experts say Kim’s aggressive weapons push has put further strain on North Korea’s isolated economy, which was already damaged by decades of mismanagement, crippling US-led sanctions over his nuclear weapons program, and pandemic-related border closures that reduced trade with China, its main ally and economic lifeline.


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