[News analysis] Kim Jong-un message of self-reliance and “foiling” sanctions during last party meeting of 2019

Posted on : 2020-01-02 16:40 KST Modified on : 2020-01-02 17:08 KST
N. Korean leader leaves open door for negotiations with US
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over the 5th Plenary Session of the 7th Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee on Dec. 31, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Jan. 1.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over the 5th Plenary Session of the 7th Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee on Dec. 31, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Jan. 1.

On Jan. 1, North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun reported that leader Kim Jong-un, chair of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), called upon the party to “turn out in the offensive for [a] frontal breakthrough to foil the enemies’ sanctions and blockade by dint of self-reliance.”

“If the US persists in its hostile policy towards the DPRK [North Korea], there will never be [. . .] denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. [. . .] The scope and depth of bolstering our deterrent will be properly coordinated depending on the [US’] future attitude to the DPRK,” Kim went on to say. In effect, the North Korean leader left open the door to dialogue, while warning that the North’s course of action will depend upon whether or not the US has a change of attitude.

Kim also said that “the world will witness a new strategic weapon [. . .] in the near future,” without specifying what he meant. On Dec. 31, US President Donald Trump urged North Korea to refrain from taking strategic military moves, noting that he believes that Kim will keep his promise about denuclearization.

The first five pages of the Sunday edition of the Rodong Sinmun covered Kim’s report, closing speech and written resolution at the 5th Plenary Session of the 7th WPK Central Committee. For the first time since taking power in 2012, Kim didn’t deliver a New Year’s address.

Kim broke with precedent in leading the plenary session throughout its four days, running from Dec. 28 to 31. As the slogan of the party and people’s struggle, the message summing up the session, Kim chose a “frontal breakthrough” of all the challenges that are blocking North Korea’s progress.

“The key front in the offensive for [a] frontal breakthrough [. . .] is [the] economic front,” Kim said, which he described as a battle between self-reliance and sanctions.

While remarking that the “stalemate between the DPRK and the US cannot but assume [a] protracted nature,” Kim called on North Koreans “to defend the country’s dignity and defeat imperialism through self-prosperity even though we tighten our belts.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over the 5th Plenary Session of the 7th Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee on Dec. 31, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Jan. 1.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over the 5th Plenary Session of the 7th Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee on Dec. 31, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Jan. 1.
Focus on building economy remains unchanged

This indicates that Kim intends to maintain the state’s strategic development line of focusing all efforts on building the socialist economy, which was adopted during the 3rd Plenary Session of the 7th Central Committee, on Apr. 20, 2018, the same meeting during which Kim announced he was wrapping up the “two-track line” of economic and nuclear development.

Considering that Kim had promised North Koreans they wouldn’t have to tighten their belts any more early in his rule (during a speech on the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korean leader Kim Il-sung in 2012), his comment about belt-tightening indicates recognition that the US and UN are unlikely to relax their sanctions. It’s also a call for North Koreans to resist those sanctions under the banner of “self-reliance.”

“There have to be powerful political, diplomatic and military [guarantees] for sure victory in the offensive for [a] frontal breakthrough,” the Rodong Sinmun quoted Kim as saying, while adding that he’d “advanced the policy for strengthening the diplomatic front.” This suggests that North Korea will pursue its economic goals through political, diplomatic and military means. But the report didn’t provide any details of those means, nor did it contain any mention of inter-Korean relations or North Korea’s relations with China or Russia.

The report on the results of the plenary session focused on detailing Kim’s plans for dealing with the US. More than three-quarters of the report concerned the first of the four items on the session’s agenda, namely “the orientation of our immediate struggle under the present internal and external situation.” The real reason that the US is keeping sanctions on North Korea, Kim said, is to weaken the North and sap its strength. Kim cited the US’ joint military exercises with South Korea, its sale of top-of-the-line weapons to the South, and its adoption of sanctions of its own as examples of its “ambition to stifle” the North.

While reminding his listeners of North Korea’s “preemptive and crucial measures of halting its nuclear [tests] and ICBM [test launches] and shutting down the nuclear-test ground,” Kim said that “there is no ground for us to [be] unilaterally bound to the commitment any longer, the commitment to which there is no opposite party.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during the 5th Plenary Session of the 7th Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee on Dec. 31. (KCNA)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during the 5th Plenary Session of the 7th Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee on Dec. 31. (KCNA)
Kim doesn’t cancel moratorium on nuclear weapons and missile tests

While Kim firmly rejected American demands for additional steps toward denuclearization, he didn’t explicitly cancel his moratorium on nuclear weapon and missile tests. And since he didn’t declare the end of the negotiations, as many had expected, or set an explicit deadline for them, as he did last year, he basically left the door open for dialogue and negotiations.

On this topic, Trump told reporters in Florida, where he is vacationing, that he and Kim had signed an agreement about denuclearization and said he thinks that Kim is “a man of his word.” Trump also said that he has a “very good relationship” with Kim and that he hopes “his Christmas present is a beautiful vase.”

While pressing the US to change its attitude, Kim said that “the more the US stalls for time and hesitates in the settlement of [. . .] DPRK-US relations, the more helpless it will find itself.” He went on to say that “the DPRK will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state” and then promised to “shift to a shocking actual action to make [the US] pay for the pains sustained by our people so far and for the development so far restrained.” But just as with the reference to a new strategic weapon, Kim didn’t specify what this “shocking actual action” would be.

Even though Kim made a domestic appeal for a protracted struggle for self-sufficiency, he also left no doubt that he won’t wait indefinitely for the US to change its attitude. The key requirements that Kim has placed on returning to dialogue with the US, including the denuclearization talks, are the US easing or lifting sanctions and halting its military exercises with South Korea, which he offered as examples of the US’ hostile policy toward North Korea. The question of whether Trump will respond to Kim by taking forward-looking measures, after the current impeachment crisis winds down, is regarded as a crucial variable in North Korea-US relations in the first half of 2020.

“South Korea and the US have confirmed that they’ve effectively refrained from carrying out large-scale joint exercises while dialogue continues,” said a spokesperson for South Korea’s Unification Ministry in a statement.

“The question of whether South Korea and the US carry out joint exercises will be a litmus test,” predicted a former high-ranking official in the South Korean government.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over the 5th Plenary Session of the 7th Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee on Dec. 31, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Jan. 1.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over the 5th Plenary Session of the 7th Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee on Dec. 31, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Jan. 1.

By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer, Noh Ji-won, staff reporter, and Hwang Joon-bum, Washington correspondent

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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