Kim Jong-un consolidates power, prepares to give Joe Biden a hard time
North Korea’s communist party, ending a landmark congress, has cemented Kim Jong-un firmly in place, leaving the leader to expand the Stalinist state’s nuclear arsenal and confront the US.
In party meetings that started on 5 January, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was given the title of general secretary. He vowed to build more sophisticated nuclear weapons, disclosed economic development goals and reshuffled the ranks.
Kim’s unanimous election as general secretary was met with “thunderous applause” and “chants of ‘hurray’” according to the official Korea Central News Agency KCNA.
The title was previously held by Kim’s father Kim Jong-il and grandfather, the “Eternal President” of the nation, Kim Il-sung.
Foremost principal enemy
Kim, who turned 37 on Friday, consolidated his power through high-profile executions and purges that removed potential rivals.
His other top jobs include Chairman of the State Affairs Commission and supreme commander of North Korea’s 1.2-million-member military, along with the top party post.
Notably absent from the extensive reporting on the congress was Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-Jung, who became notorious due to her vitriolic attacks against the West.
She had risen to the position of “first vice department director of the central committee of the WPK”, but her absence may indicate that she has lost influence.
During congress meetings last week, Kim labelled the US as “our foremost principal enemy” and disclosed a list of high-tech nuclear weapons systems under development to cope with what he called intensifying American hostility.
He said the fate of relations between Pyongyang and Washington depended on whether the US abandons its allegedly hostile policy.
Relations between the North Koreans and Americans took a surprising turn as outgoing US president Donald Trump agreed to three summits with Kim, meetings that were high on spectacle but low on result.
The meetings did not, for example, fulfil Kim’s wish that North Korea be recognised as a “nuclear state”, end the war between the Koreas since the armistice of the Korea conflict in 1953, stop sanctions or realise Washington’s demand that Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program be suspended.
Unlikely to resume diplomacy
The party meetings – the last full session of the 17th Central Committee, the 18th Party Congress and the first session of the 18th Central Committee – take place just a week before the change of administrations in Washington and the departure of the only US president who has met with a North Korean leader.
Kim’s latest nuclear threats were likely meant to pressure President-elect Joe Biden into resuming diplomacy and making concessions after he takes office next week.
But some experts say Biden, who has criticised Kim’s made-for-camera summits with Trump, is unlikely to do so.
They say Kim’s new economic plan lacks substance and that North Korea’s chronic economic difficulties are a result of its decades-long mismanagement, self-imposed isolation and US-led sanctions imposed over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
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