After a gap of 36 years, North Korea will hold its Workers’ Party Congress — a gathering of the country’s governing elite — starting Friday. Current Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, who is expected to consolidate further his grip on power in the country, was perhaps not even born the last time the meeting was held in 1980.
The agenda and the duration of the meeting is not known, but Kim, whose exact age is not known, is expected to make a speech at the opening of the meeting, and it will be closely scrutinized to understand the future policy direction of the reclusive state.
However, along with reaffirming power in the Kim family, the congress is also expected to endorse Kim’s “byungjin” policy of the dual pursuit of nuclear weapons along with economic development.
“The congress is an occasion for Kim Jong Un to officially declare at home and abroad that his era has arrived,” Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, told the New York Times. “He will boast about his nuclear weapons and the security they provide as his biggest achievement, and then will exhort his country to focus on rebuilding the economy.”
Ahead of the congress, there had been a lot of speculation that North Korea may conduct another nuclear test or launch a long-range missile in a show of strength that would help Kim back up his claims during his expected speech about the country being a nuclear force to reckon with. The country also failed in a couple of recent tests of mid-range ballistic missiles.
A report by Time said the economy has improved under Kim’s leadership — though it remains in a terrible state in absolute terms — as the state has stopped interfering in low-level private enterprises and starvation figures have purportedly come down.
According to analysts, a new central committee of the party will be elected as well, and Kim is expected to be fill those positions with a new generation of loyalists.
In the runup to the congress, citizens of North Korea were exhorted by their government, as part of a 70-day campaign, to produce more goods and crops to cover costs of the event, according to media reports.
The North Korea Workers’ Party Congress kicks off at 9 a.m. Friday local time (8:30 p.m. Thursday EDT). Journalists from all over the world have been invited to the event, for which security has been beefed up in Pyongyang.