N.Korea’s Kim urges stronger military capabilities as party congress ends

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un receives applause during the 8th Congress of the Workers' Party in Pyongyang January 13, 2021. — KCNA pic via Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un receives applause during the 8th Congress of the Workers' Party in Pyongyang January 13, 2021. — KCNA pic via Reuters

SEOUL, Jan 13 — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called for increased military power and greater nuclear war deterrence, state news agency KCNA reported today, as a rare ruling party congress came to a close after eight days of policy discussions.

The Eighth Party Congress occurred less than two weeks before US President-elect Joe Biden takes office and amid a prolonged gridlock in talks aimed at ending the North’s nuclear and missile programmes in return for US sanctions relief.

“We must do everything we can to increase nuclear war deterrence even further as we build the strongest military capability,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying at the conclusion of the congress.

Since announcing a self-declared moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests in 2018, Kim has called for continued production of nuclear weapons for his arsenal, launched a series of smaller missiles, and unveiled what would be North Korea’s largest ICBM yet at a parade in October.

Separately, Kim Yo-jong, the leader’s sister and a member of the party Central Committee, criticised South Korea’s military for monitoring a parade in Pyongyang. The move was an expression of the South’s “hostile approach” towards the North, she said in a separate statement carried by KCNA.

South Korea’s military said on Monday it had detected signs that North Korea held a nighttime military parade on Sunday for the congress.

Kim’s remarks come after South Korean President Moon Jae-in pledged to help engineer a breakthrough in stalled denuclearisation talks.

Kim Yo-jong has been serving as her brother’s “de facto second-in-command,” and her remarks ignoring Moon’s call for dialogue is a proof of her role in the regime, said Moon Seong-mook, a former South Korean military official and head of the Unification Strategy Centre in Seoul.

“She didn’t mention dialogues with South Korea at all, even though the statement came a day after Moon’s New Year’s speech, which hints that talks or meetings are distant,” he said.

Tightening state control

The results of the congress highlight how Kim Jong-un is continuing to tighten state control over society as well as the economy, said Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a North Korean economy expert at the U.S-based Stimson Centre think-tank.

“Kim’s report is abundantly clear in stating that he wants the state to be the main planner and decision-maker not just over the general direction of the economy, but on a much more detailed level than that,” he wrote in a report yesterday.

Recent policies have exerted greater centralised control of consumer markets in the country, imposed limits on foreign exchange, and crackdowns on smuggling along the border with China.

The congress, which ran for eight days in Pyongyang, is the first since 2016, and just the second since 1980.

Yesterday, Kim, cemented his power at the congress with his election as party general secretary.

A meeting of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), or parliament, is scheduled on Sunday to discuss adopting a law on the five-year economic plan and state budget, KCNA said. — Reuters

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