Political show in PyongyangThe seventh congress of the North Korean Workers’ Party convenes today in Pyongyang. In the event, which comes 36 years after the last party congress in October 1980, North Korean officials are expected to announce various measures to consolidate Kim Jong-un’s sole leadership centered around the Communist Party and the political heritage of his father Kim Jong-il and grandfather Kim Il Sung.
The congress will most likely boast the achievements the North has made in nuclear weapons — one of the two pillars of Kim Jong-un’s double-track policy of nuclear and economic progress which he proclaimed in 2013 when he took power. They have no other choice but to focus on nuclear development because Kim fell short of achieving economic development in the past five years. Even though Kim lost face after repeated failures of the Musudan mid-range ballistic missile, the North’s achievements in nuclear arms can hardly be shrugged off.
North Korea is expected to find a workaround from its dilemma by insisting on the completion of nuclear weapons ahead of its promised economic advancement. That is a miscalculation. The pursuit of nuclear development and economic advancement were not compatible from the beginning. Over the last five years, the North managed to achieve about 1 percent growth in the economy thanks to so-called family farming and an increase in autonomy for businesses. However, there are limits to further growth since the toughest-ever United Nations sanctions were levied after its fourth nuclear test and test-firings of long-range ballistic missiles. The sanctions will increasingly throttle the North’s economy as time passes.
Pyongyang desires to reinforce internal unity through the party congress, but it cannot calm the people’s ever-deepening frustration and disgruntlement unless it rejuvenates the economy. The North Korean people have been raising complaints about the authorities’ forced recruitment — and exploitation — of manpower ahead of the party congress in the name of “70-day combat.” North Korean experts say that some people are explicitly expressing their discontent.
The congress comes at a crossroads of change and isolation. The international community’s position — no dialogue if the North does not give up its nuclear ambitions — is solid. We hope the North finds a diplomatic and economic breakthrough by declaring the abolishment of nuclear weapons. If it still tries to turn the situation around with a pledge not to start a nuclear attack, it will only put the survival of its regime at risk.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 6, Page 26