Kim Jong Un does the unexpected – yet again

North Korea watcher and author John Cha shares his thoughts on North Korea's end-of-the-year plenary session of the WPK's Central Committee

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A scene from the fifth plenary session of the 7th Central Committee, held from Dec. 28 to Dec. 31. / Image: Rodong Shinmun

It is 2020, the year of new vision and hope, and we have not seen the long-anticipated “Christmas present” from the head honcho from Pyongyang, nor the usual New Year’s address.

Mum is the word.

Instead, Kim has held a plenary session of the WPK (Workers’ Party of Korea)’s Central Committee, which lasted whopping four days from December 28th to the 31st, making for some kind of record since the founding of the DPRK in 1948. The last time the Central Committee’s plenary session went for multiple days was in 1990 during the Kim Il Sung era. That meeting lasted five days.

Then and now, the Kim’s have used the meetings to decide the direction for foreign policy and to announce significant changes. Kim had held his first assembly in 2013 when he introduced the byungjin policy line, i.e., the nukes and economy combo. In a meeting in 2017, he reconfirmed the byungjin line as well as claimed “historical completion of a nuclear nation.” He followed up in 2018 with a declaration of “the great victory for the byungjin line.” He announced “discontinuation of nuclear testing and ICBM missile tests,” which included scrapping Punggyeri test site.

He held his fourth plenary session of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in April 2019 after the Hanoi summit, which Trump brought to an abrupt end. The North Korean people were led to believe that the Hanoi summit was going to fix all the economic ills. Instead of a victory lap, the people saw the Hanoi debacle as Kim’s failure, forcing him to admit that he was a mere mortal, not a supreme being. His failure to resolve the sanctions issue looked bad in the eyes of people, and he needed to do serious damage control. His answer to the people was: “We must deal a harsh blow to the enemy forces who mistakenly assume that we would surrender to economic sanctions.” He stressed “self-rehabilitation” in lieu of sanction relief.

He had plenty more to say at the plenary session, his fifth one, at the end of 2019. Unusually animated, Kim went on and on, frequently waving his arms big and wide as if to describe the flight path of a missile around the globe. He is said to have spoken for seven hours concerning international sanctions, returning laborers from Russia, new strategic weapons, economy, and so on.

Here is a brief summary:

  • It is true we need favorable exterior conditions for economic construction, but we cannot sacrifice our dignity for it.
  • Our confrontation with the US can be condensed to a clash between self-rehabilitation and sanctions.
  • The US will never end its military, political threats against us. We must realize that we must live with hostile sanctions and must strengthen our domestic front.
  • We must rely on self-rehabilitation. We must not even dream that the US and hostile forces would let us live in comfort. We must face the problem head-on, rather than looking for an easy way out.
  • The reason the US dialogue is in a stalemate is that the US has not responded to our measures for denuclearization, and the US is continuing its hostile policies against us.
  • We stopped the ICBM missile test and shut down the nuclear test site, but the US carried out tens of military exercises and threatened us with the latest weapons.
  • The US carried out dozens of sole sanction measures showing us their desire to destroy our system.
  • The stalemate will last a long time because the US is making intense demands that go against our national interest.
  • The latest US proposal for dialogue via Biegun is a measure to drag things out while they continue to weaken our strength with the sanctions.
  • There is no reason to continue the dialogue with the US any longer.
  • The world will see the new strategic weaponry in the DPRK’s possession.
  • If the US pursues its hostile policies, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula will never happen. We will continue to develop strategic weapons without stopping until there is peace on the Korean peninsula.
  • Our reinforcement of deterrence will depend on the US position from today onward.
  • The US should not delay the settlement. Further delays will bring difficulties to the US.

Well, you get the picture. Most of these rants are aimed at his domestic audience for the purpose of strengthening his political situation, but he throws out a few hints about his future plans. The subtext of his speech is rather clear—he is going to keep his nukes. What’s more, he is going to build new stuff.

One thing for sure, he has shown that he is healthy enough to make a seven-hour speech. Also, he made a wholesale change in personnel, about two-thirds of them, in a move to replace the older generation with a younger set. He also appointed his sister Kim Yo-jong to the Organizational Guidance Department, suggesting further personnel shake-up.

Stay tuned and Happy New Year of the white mouse.

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