Monday, May 09, 2016

Kim Jong Un - All Grown Up

Culminating a four-year struggle against betrayal straight out of the Godfather films, the new First Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party has finally consolidated power. Recognition as a normalized (nuclear) state, and economic development are important but ultimately secondary concerns

While the Workers' Party is supposed to hold a congress every five years, this is the seventh one in the party's 70-year history. 
Kim now holds the title of first secretary, and while symbolic, the elevated title is another clear signal to the world that Kim has a firm grasp on power within the country. His father, Kim Jong Il, holds the posthumous title of "eternal general secretary" and his grandfather, national founder Kim Il Sung, is "eternal president". 
However, they acknowledge the strides the North has made under Kim towards its ultimate goal of developing an inter-continental ballistic missile capable of striking targets across the United States mainland.

“The WPK’s policies and directions are announced with the next five to 10 years in mind, which leads me to believe that the prospects of improving relations with the next (South Korean) leadership is factored in Kim’s statement,” Cheong said. “South Korea’s general election that took place right before the WPK congress, saw the opposition -- which is more positive toward inter-Korea talks -- taking an overwhelming victory. This may have led Kim to demonstrate a relatively softer attitude toward the South.” 
Observers have said that Kim’s seemingly softer remarks may reflect his will to find an exit strategy amid the powerful economic sanctions. 

This week’s party Congress is expected to cement both the young Kim’s policies and his personal rule, according to Pyongyang watchers. 
“Kim Jong-un will use the Congress to declare a new era in North Korea under his leadership, to announce to the world that power has been consolidated,” says Moon Chung-in, a professor of politics at Yonsei University in Seoul. 
Dramatic new policy announcements are not on the cards, it seems; instead, the gathering of some 3,000 delegates will be more of a celebratory affair. 
After several years of turmoil and purges since Kim took power in 2011, “he feels confident enough to have this rite of passage, to officially elevate his status to bona fide leader,” suggests Lee Seong-hyon, an analyst at the Sejong Institute, a Seoul-based think tank. “He is now the sole leader who calls the shots.”

“Some experts are predicting bold economic reform, as they have been similarly predicting for decades, but they are likely to be disappointed,” said Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow on North Asia at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “The Kim regime has periodically allowed some economic changes, but these were never as extensive in scope or duration as predicted. And the regime usually walked them back either as economic conditions improved or it feared losing control over its minions.”

Sixty years after his grandfather introduced Juche, Kim Jong Un will likely promote his brand of socialism, Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism (trust me, it sounds better in Korean). It’s an ideology that celebrates the contributions of both his father and grandfather, and cements his position as the third-generation heir to the Kim family dynasty. Party congresses have also been a chance to address factionalism, and to sweep out the old guard and bring in the new: North Korea watchers in Seoul speculate Kim will promote his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, to a key party position as a way to further cement the Kim family’s hold on power. 
More relevant for Americans, Kim Jong Un is expected to promote and further detail his vision for “pyongjin,” a two-pronged path of pursuing nuclear weapons alongside economic development. Indeed, Kim Jong Un’s special touch for this congress has been to bring nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles into the celebration. Without the 20 years of grooming his father had, the young leader needs a fast and powerful way to show he has the guts and vision to lead — and defend — his country for decades to come.

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