Kim crowned as party leader at North Korean congress
Thousands of delegates, many in uniform, clapped and cheered enthusiastically as the country’s official head of state, Kim Yong-Nam, proclaimed him chairman at the first top-level meeting of the party for 36 years.
For the first time since they arrived last week, foreign journalists were allowed a rare glimpse inside the delegate hall, which was festooned in red and gold banners carrying the party’s logo.
The congress, which opened on Friday, has given 33-year-old Kim a podium to secure his status as supreme leader and legitimate inheritor of the one-party state founded by his grandfather.
“Kim’s new position makes it very clear that the whole party meeting is only aimed at solidifying his legitimacy as the new leader,” Koh Young-Hwan, a former North Korean diplomat who defected to the South in 1991, told AFP in Seoul.
Koh, who is now vice head of the South’s state-run Institute for National Security Strategy, said the rarity of the party congress conferred real authority on the new role.
“All past leaders of the party were named at a party congress… so this was a perfect coronation.”
Pyongyang spent weeks preparing for the congress, with work crews beautifying the city as it readied for thousands of delegates.
The regime also allowed in dozens of foreign reporters, although it has tightly controlled their movements.
One of their number, the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, on Monday fell foul of the authorities and was expelled from the country after an eight-hour interrogation.
An official with the North’s National Peace Committee told a press conference that Wingfield-Hayes had been ejected for “speaking very ill of the system and the leadership”.
“We are never going to allow him back into the country for any reporting,” he added.
– Nuclear tests –
As well as a chance to confirm Kim as the heir to his father and grandfather, the congress has also been a chance for him to confirm his legacy “byungjin” doctrine of twin economic and nuclear development.
North Korea has carried out two of its four nuclear tests under Kim’s leadership, most recently in January when it claimed to have tried out a powerful hydrogen bomb — a claim experts have disputed.
There has been growing concern that Pyongyang may be on the verge of conducting a fifth test, with satellite imagery showing activity at the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
Delegates to what is technically North Korea’s top decision-making body on Sunday adopted his motion to “boost self-defensive nuclear force, both in quality and quantity”.
The meeting also enshrined a policy of not using nuclear weapons unless the country’s sovereignty is threatened by another nuclear power, and of working towards the reunification of the divided Korean peninsula.
“But if the South Korean authorities opt for a war… we will turn out in the just war to mercilessly wipe out the anti-reunification forces,” said a document published by the North’s official KCNA news agency.
Kim was not even born when the last party congress was held in 1980 to crown his father, Kim Jong-Il, as the heir apparent to founding leader Kim Il-Sung.
When his own turn came, following the death of Kim Jong-Il in December 2011, the new young leader quickly set about shoring up his power base and securing his legitimacy as the inheritor of Kim family’s ruling dynasty.
One of his earliest moves was to adjust his father’s “songun”, or military first policy, to the “byungjin” policy of economic-nuclear development.
The nuclear half of that strategy had dominated the run-up to the party congress, starting with a fourth nuclear test in January that was followed by a long-range rocket launch and a flurry of other missile and weapons tests.
Some observers had predicted that the congress might switch the focus to the economic side of the equation, and Kim did unveil a five-year economic plan — the first of its kind for decades.
But his report to the congress offered few details of the plan’s policies or targets beyond general ambitions to boost production across all economic sectors, with a particular focus on energy production.
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