North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was given the title of general secretary of the Workers’ Party formerly held by his late father and grandfather, state media reported yesterday, in a move apparently aimed at bolstering his authority amid growing economic challenges.
The designation was North Korea’s latest step taken during its first ruling party congress since 2016.
During the meeting, Kim also vowed to build more sophisticated nuclear weapons, disclosed economic developmental goals and reshuffled party officials.
However, observers doubt whether such moves can offer Pyongyang any substantial solutions to difficulties that include COVID-19-related economic shocks, natural disasters and persistent US-led sanctions.
The congress announced Kim’s new title during the sixth day of the meeting on Sunday.
A congress statement said Kim “has gloriously realized the historic mission to complete the country’s nuclear build-up plan,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
Kim was already the party’s top leader. During a 2016 party congress, he was named party chairman and before that had led the party with the title of first secretary. However, general secretary has important symbolism in the country led by dynastic rule since it was the title held by his father and grandfather, Kim Il-sung.
His other top jobs include chairman of the State Affairs Commission and supreme commander of North Korea’s 1.2 million-strong military, along with the top party post.
Cheong Seong-chang, a fellow at the Wilson Center’s Asia Program, said Kim likely restored the old general secretary title after determining that it would further benefit his dictatorship.
Under the previous title systems, Cheong said that there were too many chairmen and vice chairmen at various levels, and that authorities appeared to have thought it was not helpful for Kim’s authority.
South Korea’s military said it had obtained intelligence showing North Korea staged a military parade at a Pyongyang square on Sunday night.
A statement from the Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday said it was checking whether it was an actual parade or a rehearsal. The parade likely featured new weapons systems in a show of force against the incoming administration of US president-elect Joe Biden, observers said.
Among the notable personnel changes announced yesterday was the name of Kim’s influential sister, Kim Yo-jong, missing from a new lineup for the party’s powerful Politburo, where she had served as an alternate member since last year. She retained her membership at the party’s Central Committee, also a high-level body.
In related news, South Korean President Moon Jae-in yesterday said he remains committed to engaging with North Korea, and that cooperation on issues such as anti-epidemic work could help lead to a breakthrough in stalled talks in the last years of his term.
Seoul will make efforts to jumpstart talks between the US and North Korea as Biden prepares to take office, Moon said during his annual New Year’s speech.
“Dialogue and co-prosperity are key drivers of the peace process on the Korean Peninsula,” he said. “Our will to meet anytime, anywhere, and willingness to talk ... remains unchanged.”
Moon, whose term ends next year, has made engagement with North Korea one of his signature goals, and he said he would liaise closely with Biden’s administration.
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