North Korea’s Stalinist monarchy, led now by the third generation’s Kim Jong-un, 33, probably continues to be the most misgoverned of the world’s nearly 200 nations. Kim’s only ally, the party-state in China, continues to keep him at arm’s length, and he has yet to travel abroad or meet any world leaders.
Residents of the capital Pyongyang were painting walls, repairing roads, and rehearsing mass rallies for loyalty demonstrations at Kim’s ruling party congress. The extreme poverty and malnutrition among many of the 25 million residents of the North contrast starkly with the prosperity of 50 million Koreans living in the democracy next door. The Hyundai Research Institute estimates the per capita GDP of the North as of 2013 to be about 3.6 percent of South Korea’s US$23,838.
Kim invited about a hundred international journalists to Pyongyang for the opening last week of the first party gathering since 1980. They were not permitted to enter the event hall and after waiting for an hour outside were returned to their hotels. Unfavorable media coverage of the event across the world will no doubt be worsened by expelling a BBC team of journalists over the weekend. The foreigners who remained were kept busy touring showcase factories and historic sites.
State media alone reported on what transpired at the congress. The meeting of 3,400 delegates of the Workers’ Party proved to be another of Kim’s political theaters, with him seeking any means to step out from the shadows of his father and grandfather toward establishing a more personal dictatorship.
Following the death of his father in 2011, Kim began promoting a “byongjin” guns-and-butter policy of developing nuclear weapons while building the domestic economy. Most economists say this is unlikely to succeed because of the heavy price the nuclear program brings in international sanctions that keep the country’s economy from achieving growth.
The lavish congress is viewed as Kim’s “coronation”—recognition of his status as the somehow legitimate inheritor of Kim family rule spanning almost seven decades. The fact that the ruling party is bestowing its top title on him is another sign that he is firmly in control and ready to begin a new era of his own despite deepening international isolation of North Korea as “the Hermit Kingdom” over his ambition to develop more and better nuclear weapons.
Kim reportedly opened with a 3-hour speech singling out North Korea’s advances in developing nuclear weapons and rockets capable of putting satellites into orbit as examples of the country’s progress in the face of international criticism and tough sanctions. In recent years, the regime has focused on the development of tactical nuclear weapons, with a number of increasingly successful tests of a submarine-launched ballistic missile system.
Heralding the congress as a “historic” milestone in a struggle pitting the North against “all manner of threats and desperate challenges by the imperialists,” Kim said it would “put forward the strategic line and tasks to keep ushering in a great golden age of socialist construction and the direction of advance of our revolution.”
According to government accounts, Kim’s defiant reference to what he claims was a successful hydrogen bomb test on Jan. 6 received a standing ovation from the delegates. It was the North’s fourth nuclear test, two of which have been conducted since Kim came to power. An analysis released by the respected 38 North website said commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear test site from last week suggests Pyongyang may be preparing for its fifth nuclear test “in the near future.”
On its second day, Kim insisted that he would use nuclear weapons only if North Korea’s sovereignty was under threat from another nuclear power. “As a responsible nuclear weapons state, our republic will not use a nuclear weapon unless its sovereignty is encroached upon by any aggressive hostile forces with nukes,” he told the party faithful.
The Korean War (1950–1953) ended with an armistice never formalized by a peace treaty. This means the two Koreas, technically speaking, remain at war. For decades, North Koreans have been told that they are under constant threat by foreigners. Last August, Kim said the recent agreement between the two Koreas paved the way for “reconciliation” and “trust” for the divided nation. Many in the international community, however, consider him to be untrustworthy.
South Korean monitors should remain on high alert over the threat of further nuclear-related testing by the North. Washington and others are correct in calling on Kim’s regime to “refrain from actions and rhetoric that further destabilize the region.”
David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chretien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Africa and Latin America) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.