Jong-un to ce­ment supreme sta­tus

Lesotho Times - - International -

PYONGYANG — Af­ter four years of top-level reshuf­fles, purges and executions, Kim Jong-un will for­mally ce­ment his unas­sail­able sta­tus as North Korea’s supreme leader at a land­mark rul­ing party congress tomorrow.

The first gath­er­ing of its kind for nearly 40 years is re­ally a coro­na­tion of sorts — recog­nis­ing the young 33-year-old leader as the le­git­i­mate in­her­i­tor of the dy­nas­tic dic­ta­tor­ship started by his grand­fa­ther Kim Il-sung and passed down through his late fa­ther Kim Jong-il.

“This congress means every­thing for Kim Jong-un,” said John Delury, a North Korea ex­pert at Yon­sei Univer­sity in Seoul.

“It is the most pub­lic, his­toric set­ting in which he can demon­strate that he is fully in charge, and that ev­ery­one fol­lows his or­ders,” Delury said.

“Nom­i­nally, it’s for the party, but re­ally this congress is for Kim,” he added.

Kim wasn’t even born when the last congress was held in 1980 to crown his fa­ther as the heir ap­par­ent to found­ing leader Kim IlSung.

When his own turn came, fol­low­ing the death of Kim Jong-il in De­cem­ber 2011, there were nu­mer­ous doubters who sug­gested the Swiss fin­ish­ing school grad­u­ate lacked the sur­vival skills needed for the Machi­avel­lian world of North Korean power pol­i­tics.

But he proved them wrong, purg­ing the party, gov­ern­ment and pow­er­ful mil­i­tary of those seen as dis­loyal, and dis­play­ing a ruth­less streak that no­tably led to the ex­e­cu­tion of his pow­er­ful un­cle, and one-time po­lit­i­cal men­tor, Jang Song-thaek.

He also ad­justed his fa­ther’s “songun”, or mil­i­tary first pol­icy, to a “byungjin” pol­icy of pur­su­ing nu­clear weapons in tan­dem with eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

The nu­clear half of that strat- egy has dom­i­nated the run-up to the party congress, start­ing with a fourth nu­clear test in Jan­uary that was fol­lowed by a long-range rocket launch and a flurry of other mis­sile and weapons tests.

“The ob­jec­tive of all that was clear from the start,” said Vic­tor Cha, Korea Chair at the Cen­tre for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (CSIS).

“It was a race to have a cred­i­ble nu­clear deterrent in place, as a crown­ing achieve­ment, be­fore the congress opens,” Cha said.

But there was an em­bar­rass­ing stum­ble in the home straight, with the fail­ure in re­cent weeks of three sep­a­rate ef­forts to test fire a pow­er­ful, new mid-range bal­lis­tic mis­sile ca­pa­ble of strik­ing US bases on the Pa­cific is­land of Guam.

One fi­nal act might still play out be­fore the party gath­er­ing be­gins on May 6, with many pre­dict­ing a fifth nu­clear test to un­der­line the North’s sta­tus as a gen­uine nu­clear power.

Then, once the congress gets un­der­way, comes the ques­tion of what, be­yond Kim’s lead­er­ship qual­i­ties, the gath­er­ing will seek to spot­light.

The op­ti­mist’s sce­nario is that, with a con­firmed nu­clear deterrent in the bag, Kim will an­nounce that the North’s se­cu­rity is en­sured and the fo­cus can now switch to the other half of his “byungjin” strat­egy - eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

“The key is not whether such a strong North Korean deterrent force is a re­al­ity, not even whether Kim be­lieves it, but whether he will set out this po­si­tion as the philo­soph­i­cal ba­sis for a new di­rec­tion in pol­icy,” said Robert Car­lin, a vis­it­ing scholar at the Cen­tre for In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity and Co­op­er­a­tion in Cal­i­for­nia.

In his very first pub­lic ad­dress, at a mil­i­tary pa­rade in April 2012, Kim had said he was deter­mined that North Kore­ans would “never have to tighten their belts again”.

The need to raise liv­ing stan­dards has been a con­stant re­frain of his an­nual New Year ad­dresses, although an­a­lysts note that they have been largely de­void of any spe­cific pol­icy ini­tia­tives.

So while the party congress does provide the plat­form for a gen­uine pol­icy shift, it can just as eas­ily be­come a stage for tired, self-con­grat­u­la­tory rhetoric that of­fers lit­tle in the way of change.

What­ever the tone, the con­tent of the speeches, es­pe­cially Kim’s key­note ad­dress, will be closely scru­ti­nised as will any per­son­nel changes, with an­a­lysts look­ing for a younger crop of of­fi­cials to take over lead­er­ship po­si­tions.

The North’s chief diplo­matic ally, China, which has be­come in­creas­ingly frus­trated with Pyongyang’s re­fusal to re­strain its nu­clear am­bi­tions, will be among the clos­est ob­servers.

“Any North Korean rhetor­i­cal em­pha­sis on liv­ing stan­dards and peace­ful de­vel­op­ment over nu­clear chest-thump­ing and threats... will be in­ter­preted by Chi­nese state me­dia as ev­i­dence that things are mod­er­at­ing,” said Adam Cath­cart, a Univer­sity of Leeds spe­cial­ist on China-north Korea ties.

“There may also be more will­ing­ness to work with newly-pro­moted of­fi­cials who are some­what younger and pre­sum­ably more prag­matic,” Cath­cart said. — AFP

Kim Jong-un.

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