While countries around the world were shocked by North Korea’s claim that it set off a hydrogen bomb Wednesday, the Pyongyang regime was likely counting on its own citizens to be filled with awe. The announcement that the country completed a successful nuclear test increases its citizens' loyalty and appreciation for the dictatorship, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
North Koreans do not have access to the skepticism the rest of the world is expressing about the device their government detonated, so they are likely to believe the regime’s proud announcement. This devotion is more important than ever as dictator Kim Jong Un faces a rare ruling party conference this year, at which he will be watched for any new policy proposals.
The authoritarian state is working hard to sell its version of the hydrogen bomb test story to its people this week. North Korea’s main newspaper, The Rodong Sinmun, featured a photo of Kim signing the order for the nuclear test on its front page, the Wall Street Journal reported. The North Korean paper also included photos of the order itself and a confirmation to proceed with the test.
“Let’s begin 2016 … with the thrilling explosion of our first hydrogen bomb, so that the whole world will look up to our socialist, nuclear-armed republic and the great Workers’ Party of Korea!” part of the text written by the dictator read, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Experts in the United States and other countries have said North Korea’s device was probably not a hydrogen bomb and was more likely a smaller nuclear device, similar to what the country has tested in the past. However, for people living in North Korea who have been told they are under threat from external attacks, the news of a new nuclear bomb would work well to shore up support, experts said.
“Internally, nothing else is as effective,” Kim Heung-hwang, a North Korean defector, told the Wall Street Journal.
The North Korean government organizes community meetings when it wants to spread the message about important events such as a nuclear test, defectors said. The country’s state media showed images Thursday of gatherings it described as lauding the test.
Seeing images of successful military advances and other citizens supporting them also likely helps the government explain its heavy military spending. North Korea spends about a quarter of its economic output on its military, according to the U.S. State Department.
The test is also important for maintaining support of military and party officials. Unlike his father who spent years building power and influence before becoming ruler in 1994, the current Kim was thrust into leadership in 2011 when his father suddenly died. Outside media cannot know the details of the country’s politics, but the dictator has purged about 100 officials from his government in the past four years, which suggests some level of instability.
When the ruling party conference takes place in May, it will be the first time such event in 36 years. For a country like North Korea that is not used to change, it will be important for government officials to feel confident about the dictator’s plans.
As the country continues to celebrate its test, the state media will ensure all citizens are aware of the event. Beyond the front page of the Rodong Sinmun Thursday, five of the paper’s six pages included reports on the nuclear test, the Wall Street Journal reported.