The Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea ended on Jan. 12. It continued for eight days after starting on Jan. 5. The motto of the Congress, which spent a fairly long time evaluating past years and preparing for the country’s next five-year plan, was “Congress for Work, Struggle and Progress.”

Kim Jong Un, the general secretary of the Workers’ Party, conducted the congress’s closing address on the event’s last day. While he said a lot of things, two points are particularly noteworthy.

No intention to give up its nukes

First, Kim confirmed North Korea would not abandon its nuclear weapons. Kim said that “we must regard it as an important task to strengthen our national defense capabilities further” and “we need to do everything we can to strengthen our nuclear deterrence and build up the most powerful military strength.”

While he did not say much about nuclear weapons, Kim reaffirmed his nuclear intentions to the party and entire nation as he decided to “thoroughly implement the tasks presented in the project evaluation report of the Party’s Central Committee.” In his report to the Central Committee, Kim announced plans to improve various types of nuclear capabilities such as developing solid-fuel ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles), the ability for pre-emptive nuclear strikes against the United States, and the design of nuclear submarines.

A “more difficult” frontal breakthrough

The second point of interest is that North Korea has chosen to engage in a “more difficult frontal breakthrough.”

Kim stated that “socialist economic construction is the most important revolutionary task that we need to focus on today with all our might.” While stressing the importance of economic construction, he emphasized the need to “increase [our] independent power and internal forces” in order to “open up a new path to progress by breaking through all difficulties.” Even if “hostile forces are more aggressive in trying to block our future path, [we] must be prepared for a more difficult frontal breakthrough to win a new victory for the socialist task and achieve glorious progress.”

Kim Yo Jong at the Eighth Party Congress / Image: Yonhap

While Kim emphasized the importance of economic construction, the focus on self-reliance over cooperation with the outside world indicates that he will not give up on nuclear weapons for the sake of the economy. This is because it will be difficult for North Korea to cooperate with the outside world while continuing to pursue nuclear weapons. As such, those who believe that North Korea will pursue denuclearization for the sake of economic construction need to rethink this idea.

Kim Yo Jong’s continued role in inter-Korean relations

Meanwhile, Kim Yo Jong’s statement, which was released along with the Party Congress’s closing report, is also noteworthy. Targeting the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff’s monitoring of the late-night military parade in North Korea, she said the South was “displaying hostility” and criticized the South Korean authorities for “unreservedly expressing hostile views of its fellow citizens.” She also crudely criticized South Korea using terms such as “incomprehensible, bizarre fellows” and “special-grade fools.”

This shows that Kim Yo Jong continues to play an important role in inter-Korean relations, even if she was removed as a candidate from the Party’s Politburo and her title on the statement demoted from “first deputy director” to “deputy director.” Regardless of her position, Kim Yo Jong is expected to continue her role as the de-facto second-in-command due to her special status as Kim Jong Un’s sister.

*Translated by Vilde Olaussen

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