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Kim expounds on economic self-reliance

Reshuffle of party leaders may indicate faith in diplomacy
Apr 12,2019
이미지뷰
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sits at a head table on a stage during a plenary session of a Workers’ Party Central Committee conference held in Pyongyang on Thursday. [YONHAP]
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un formally announced that Pyongyang would defy “hostile forces” through a policy of self-reliance, according to state media on Thursday.

In a plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party (WPK) Central Committee on Wednesday, Kim gave a lengthy address on economic development based on self-reliance, repeating the term a total of 27 times throughout his speech.

According to an English report from the state-run Korean Central News Agency, Kim said that the present situation was “becoming daily acute,” while clarifying the “main tenor of the recent DPRK-U.S. summit talks and the Party’s stand towards it” - his first public mention of his collapsed talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in February. The DPRK is an acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea.

He then “underscored the need to more vigorously advance socialist construction […] under the uplifted banner of self-reliance, so as to deal a telling blow to the hostile forces who go with bloodshot eyes miscalculating that sanctions can bring the DPRK to its knees,” the report read.

The North Korean leader’s words suggest that Pyongyang is digging in its heels for a protracted standoff amid economic difficulties rather than waiting for a breakthrough in its negotiations with the United States, which has remained steadfastly opposed to sanctions relief for the North without significant denuclearization measures.

Kim, however, stopped short of going beyond calling the United States a hostile force, which may mean he is leaving the door open for continued dialogue even as he shows diminished expectations for success in negotiations.

Evoking the conceptual principles underlying the regime’s state ideology of Juche, often translated as self-reliance, Kim said a self-supporting national economy is the “bedrock of the existence of our own style socialism, the motive power of its advance and development and the eternal lifeline essential to the destiny of our revolution.”

The seating arrangement at Wednesday’s conference placed Kim alone at a head table on a stage facing key party members, which, according to the South’s Unification Ministry, suggested his status had been elevated in comparison to meetings in earlier years, when he sat side by side with other top Politburo officials at the head table.

Presiding over the meeting as its chair, Kim gave his lecture with a variety of emphatic face and hand gestures in a rare display of bombast reminiscent of his grandfather, the country’s founder Kim Il Sung. At one point, his face appeared to redden and cringe, and at various points he waved his hand around in the air in a fist as if angry at something.

While state media’s video footage of the event did not make clear at which points Kim publicly displayed such heightened emotions, the gestures may be linked to the announcement of a major reshuffle of key officials in the party and government.

During an earlier meeting of the party’s Political Bureau on Tuesday, Kim complained of a host of “undesirable practices” in the party - like defeatism and bureaucratism - which he said were “chronic among leading officials” and should be “rooted out.”

State media reports announced that seven of the thirteen sitting Politburo members - the party’s top decision-making body - had been replaced, largely with figures tied to areas in the country with key military production facilities.

New members were also elected to the party’s Central Committee, the most prominent being Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui and Hyon Song-wol, the leader of the North’s Samjiyon Orchestra.

Choe led Pyongyang’s working-level negotiations with Washington in the lead up to the summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, and her promotion could suggest Kim has renewed his faith in his U.S. engagement team as he moves forward.

On Thursday, North Korea followed up the party conferences of the previous two days by holding the first plenary meeting of its newly-elected rubber stamp legislature - the Supreme Peoples’ Assembly (SPA).

While reports of that event were not released to the outside world as of press time, it is possible that the country’s formal leadership will be restructured to put it in line with Kim’s stated drive to build a “normal country.”

The SPA could decide to bestow on Kim a de jure title that makes him the sole head of state in all matters, both domestic and foreign, thereby legitimizing his engagement with leaders like Trump on an official level.

The North’s Constitution currently denotes that despite Kim’s status as chairman of the State Affairs Commission, which makes him the supreme leader of the country, the North is represented by the President of the Presidium in foreign affairs, a post which has long been occupied by Kim Yong-nam, now 91.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]