N. Korea kicks off 200-day 'battle' for new economic plan

Fresh off a 70-day campaign to boost production, North Korea kicked off an even more ambitious 200-day "battle" on Wednesday, apparently aimed at jump-starting a new five-year economic plan. North Koreans are used to mandatory mass mobilisation campaigns, with participation rigorously monitored and used as a measurement of loyalty to the regime, but observers say ordering two such lengthy campaigns back-to-back is relatively uncommon. The start of the new movement was hailed by state media on Wednesday. "All party officials, military officers and people .... have broken loose and stepped forward with 100-times the normal courage and vigour, fully-charged for the 200-day battle," ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in a long, front-page editorial. Few details have emerged of what will actually be required of individuals and institutions during the campaign, but state media reports have made a clear link with the five-year economic plan announced by leader Kim Jong-Un during a rare ruling party congress last month. It's the first plan of its kind for decades but, again, short on detail beyond general ambitions to boost production across all economic sectors, with a particular focus on energy output. "The 200-day battle is a safeguard for the party policy that will open up a breakthrough for carrying out the five-year strategy for economic growth," the Rodong editorial said. Hit by its toughest UN sanctions to date following a fourth nuclear test in January, North Korea faces a major challenge in keeping its weak, highly vulnerable economy on track. -- Unofficial economy -- The past decade or so has seen the emergence of a closely monitored but tolerated grassroots capitalism, born out of a spirit of survivalist self-sufficiency that got many through the catastrophic failure of the state distribution system in the famine years of the mid-to-late 1990s. This unofficial economy is seen as playing an increasingly important role in propping up the regime, but defectors now living in South Korea say mass mobilisation campaigns can disrupt its operations by eliminating the free time people need to tend to small-scale, private commerce. Analysts said the campaign could foster public fatigue and frustration, with little tangible reward. "In the absence of capital and investment, an economic development campaign that depends on little more than human muscle power will eventually reach its limit," said Cho Bong-Hyun of IBK Research Institute in Seoul. Footage on North Korean state television has shown slogans in the streets of Pyongyang exhorting workers to greater effort. "Race ahead like a 10,000-mile horse," read one banner -- echoing an old slogan urging people to work like a horse that can cover 1,000 miles in a day. The new exercise begins just one month after the conclusion of a gruelling 70-day campaign that saw the entire country mobilised ahead of the May party congress. The New York-based monitor, Human Rights Watch, denounced the 70-day project as a mass exercise in coerced labour under the "abusive rule" of Kim Jong-Un, with people forced to produce more goods and crops in order to cover the costs of the party gathering.