EXPLAINER: What's behind N. Korea's biggest political event

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FILE - In this May 9, 2016, file photo, the portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il hang inside the convention hall of the April 25 House of Culture where the party congress is held in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has opened its biggest political event in five years amid what some experts see as the most fraught moment of leader Kim Jong Uns nine-year rule. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)

SEOUL – North Korea has opened the first full congress of its ruling party in five years, with leader Kim Jong Un admitting his previous economic development plans have failed. The congress could be crucial, coming as it does amid what some experts see as the most fraught moment of Kim's nine-year rule.

The Workers' Party congress, which was revived by Kim in 2016 after a 36-year hiatus, began on Tuesday as North Korea, one of the world’s poorest countries, faces what Kim has called “huge challenges and difficulties” brought on by an economy hammered by pandemic-related border closings, a spate of natural disasters and harsh U.S.-led sanctions meant to stop the country from putting the finishing touches on its illicit nuclear-tipped missile program.

The meeting will also be closely watched by, and may be meant to send a message to, US. President-elect Joe Biden, who will be inaugurated later this month. Biden has called Kim a “thug” and criticized his nuclear summitry with President Donald Trump.

Here are a few things to know about the biggest political event of the year in North Korea:



The congress is the top decision-making organ of the Workers’ Party.

Kim, the party chairman, determines key day-to-day decisions together with members of his inner circle, but the congress’ responsibilities include the formulation of new policies, reviews of past projects, revisions of party regulations and a reshuffling of officials’ positions.