North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has pledged to strengthen the country's defense capacities at the first congress of the ruling party in more than five years, state-run media reported Thursday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is pictured at the congress of the Workers' Party in Pyongyang on Jan. 6, 2021. (KCNA/Kyodo)

"important will" to protect national security by "placing the state defense capabilities on a much higher level," the official Korean Central News Agency said.

Kim's remarks came before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20. The news agency did not report whether Kim referred to relations between North Korea and the United States as well as the nation's nuclear arsenal.

During the period of the congress, North Korea may urge Washington to shift its "hostile" stance toward Pyongyang as a condition to resume bilateral denuclearization talks, foreign affairs experts say.

Related coverage:

North Korea's ruling party holds 1st congress in 5 years

North Korea requests COVID vaccine assistance from global alliance

North Korea's Kim sends letter to citizens ahead of ruling party congress

At the opening of the key meeting of the ruling party, Kim was quoted by KCNA as saying in his speech on Tuesday that North Korea failed to achieve economic development goals set in the strategy through 2020 in "almost all sectors."

The news agency added that the congress will continue, although it did not elaborate when the gathering will conclude.

The previous party congress was held for the first time in 36 years for four days from May 6, 2016.

After the last congress, Kim accelerated the development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, including those that could reach the U.S. mainland. In November 2017, he declared the completion of a "state nuclear force."

Since June 2018, Kim has held meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump three times, but their denuclearization negotiations have stalled, making it more difficult for Pyongyang to persuade Washington to lift economic sanctions.

North Korea's economy, meanwhile, has become more sluggish as it has cut off traffic to and from its neighbors since early last year, with fears growing that the novel coronavirus, first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, could enter the country.

As trade with China, North Korea's closest and most influential ally, has plunged and powerful typhoons and flooding have devastated the agricultural sector, concerns have been mounting that its citizens are not receiving adequate daily necessities.