North Korea (NEO) – On May 6-9, Pyongyang hosted the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea. In the run-up to the congress, experts of different degrees of involvement made various predictions. On average, Korean studies experts maintained that the congress would be just another event in the life of North Korea. Some “generalists,” on the other hand, speculated that the event would trigger drastic economic reforms, others insisted that there would be radical purges, while there were some, who asserted that the event’s opening ceremony would be accompanied by a fifth nuclear test.
In fact, none of that happened. Actually, the only suspense of the whole event was in that foreign journalists were not allowed inside the building where the congress was held. There also were no official delegations from other countries (not because those who had been invited did not show up, but because it had been decided to hold the congress in private ). There was one more “sensation,” the leader of the country was dressed in a European style suit on the opening day.
The main intraparty conclusion of the event was that the “epoch of Kim Jong-un” has officially begun. Actually, the main topic of the previous congress held on October 10-14, 1980, was largely devoted to the initiation of the “Dear Leader” (at that time Kim Jong-Il was officially announced his father’s heir and “a successor to the great Juche revolution idea.”).
This time, the leader of the country was given the new title of the Party’s general secretary. Previously, he held the position of the first secretary of the Party as the title of the general secretary was supposed to be permanently held by Kim Jong-Il. The congress has definitively established this change: now North Korea has an eternal general secretary and an eternal president. Now there are two immortal leaders in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, each of whom is assigned specific state duties. The Party structure has changed accordingly. Instead of the secretariat, a new body headed by the general secretary, but, basically, carrying out the same duties, has been formed.
There was no radical reshuffling among the country’s top officials mainly because North Korea has not tasked itself with the creation of a pool of young talented candidates. Ultimately, most of those top officials whom Kim Jong-Un named and who were replaced, were the contemporaries of his father, Kim Jong-Il, or somewhat younger. As it was expected, the four officials of the country were awarded seats on the Politburo Presidium: Kim Yong-Nam, President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-So, director of the Korean People’s Army General Political Bureau, Pak Pong-Ju, Premier of North Korea and Choe Ryong-Hae, former director of the KPA General Political Bureau. Thus, the balance of military and civilian personnel in the leadership has not been interrupted.
The country’s internal and foreign policies were reaffirmed. North Korea will continue pursuing the “parallel development” policy which involves both the simultaneous development of the national economy and the missile-nuclear defense system, as well as some elements of the parallel economy. There were no official statements made as to the economic reforms, but there were no condemnations of them voiced either. That means North Korea will continue following the same policy, which was outlined in the times of Kim Jong-Il. There will be definitely no paradigm shift. Opening the congress, Kim Jong-un emphasized that the event would mark the beginning of a new stage of development of socialism.
The country will also continue working on the development of its missile-nuclear program. The status of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as a nuclear power was confirmed at the congress. This statement is supported by the actual development of nuclear weapon and ballistic missiles in the country. Kim Jong-un should not be perceived as some “war maniac,” though. His statement regarding the necessity to get ready for a forced reunification of the North and South, which has made a stir, was, as usually, taken out of context. All he was saying was that North Korea would be forced to fight a reunification war in case of aggression on the part of the Republic of Korea. By the same token, he said that North Korea would launch a preventive nuclear strike “only if its sovereignty is violated by hostile aggressive forces possessing similar weapons.”
In general, North Korea once again emphasized its openness to dialog with other countries, provided that it would be a real dialog and not an attempt to force somebody’s opinion upon North Korea passing it off as the opinion of the international community. The fallout with China could be considered the “sensation” of the congress; however, it was spoken about in a very diplomatic tone. Actually, China was not even mentioned, instead criticism came in the form of mention made of “some countries, which…”. This is how they used to talk about Russia under Yeltsin. And this is a sure sign that Pyongyang is not planning an “offensive,” otherwise it would have been more explicit in its definitions.
The idea of unification of the two Koreas by creating a confederation that Kim Jong-Un uttered in his speech before the congress is not something new either. This plan of reunification of the North and South Koreas was put forth by Kim Il-sung back in 1980. Later, this plan would be mentioned each time there was a need to show that there is as an alternative to the South Korean plan of its acquisition of North Korea.
What can we conclude? Something along these lines: “Five years went by. No deviations from the course have been identified.” The congress once again reaffirmed and reinforced the current policy, which was detailed by the country’s leader in his New Year’s speech and which North Korea will continue asserting despite global and regional changes.
Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D, Chief Research Fellow of the Center for Korean Studies, Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”