North Korea’s Workers’ Party hosted a rare meeting that resulted in the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un, being awarded a symbolically important position solidifying his authoritarian grip on the nation. It’s been almost a decade since Kim succeeded his father, Kim Jong-il, becoming the third member of the Kim dynasty to rule the country.
But this past weekend, only days after his 37th birthday, Kim was anointed the ruling party’s General Secretary, a post once held by his father and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung.
Takeover Displays Kim’s Growing Confidence
Some analysts have concluded that this move was intended to strengthen his grip on power. Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told the Guardian that Kim’s takeover “shows his confidence, that he has now officially joined the ranks of his father and grandfather.”
According to the Charter of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the General Secretary is the Supreme Leader of the Workers’ Party. The Party Congress nominates and elects the General Secretary. The Party Conference is also allowed to nominate and subsequently elect the General Secretary. What this means in practice is that the General Secretary is also a member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau, which is a committee consisting of the top leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Kim will also act as head of the Executive Policy Bureau. This body manages the work of the Politburo of the Workers’ Party and its Presidium, headed by the Chairman and made up of party secretaries.
Kim’s Made it Clear He’s King of the Castle
Kim has expanded his influence over the management of the Workers’ Party and his latest actions indicate that he has centralized his power base. His recent changes also provide observers with a hint as to what his policy concerns are going to be over the next few years. First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, who was involved in negotiations with Washington, has not been elected to the Politburo. No diplomatic official has been appointed to one of the seven newly created secretary posts. This proves that Kim will focus on economic sanctions and the effects of COVID-19 instead of foreign policy. It is more than likely that he will concentrate on building up Pyongyang’s military forces too.
Despite the fact that Kim has not hurled any insults toward Joe Biden, the incoming US President, he still labeled the US as North Korea’s ‘biggest enemy’ during the first Congress of the Workers’ Party in five years. His challenge to Washington included the prospect of a nuclear-powered submarine, now supposedly in the testing stage. He also intends to build on existing nuclear technology with smaller nuclear warheads.
Kim Intends to Take Full Control of His Country’s Destiny
Although Kim will be focusing on domestic issues, he is still open to the prospect of denuclearization so long as Washington ends its “aggressive” policies toward Pyongyang. US President Donald Trump’s move to meet Kim was ballsy, but it failed to persuade Kim to end his nuclear program. Unless Biden can somehow end the current deadlock, there is no reason why the North Korean leader won’t continue to build up his country’s military arsenal.
What is also interesting is that the North Korean leader removed his sister, Kim Yo-jong, from the Politburo, yet she retained her membership of the Central Committee. Some may argue that this could be interpreted as a demotion, but Yo-jong exercised considerable influence during Kim’s summits with the Trump administration, so it is more than likely that she will oversee Pyongyang’s relations with South Korea.
The timing of Kim’s latest actions is no coincidence. They come just as Joe Biden is about to be sworn in as the next US President. What they also suggest is that Kim intends to take full control of North Korea’s destiny.