About the Author
Cha Du-hyeogn is the former secretary to President Lee Myung-bak for crisis information. He now works as a visiting research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies
“For last 36 years we have constructed the socialist powerhouse despite the countless domestic and foreign challenges we have faced. Now the process of the construction of socialism is going through a dividing ridge. We will accomplish the construction under the guidance of young leader Kim Jong Un.”
Many political gestures and much rhetoric gushed out over the three-day Seventh Congress of Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK), but their general message can be summed up to the sentences above.
THE NEW JUCHE IDEOLOGY
Many experts have criticized Kim Jong Un as failing to provide his own refreshing political ideology during the Congress. Indeed, apart from Kim Jong Un advocating the theory of Kim Il Sung-Kim Jong Il, it seems that Kim has failed to construct a new ideology of his own which can be differentiated from the existing Juche Ideology. However, this was in some ways an expected outcome. The “Theory of the Suryong (Supreme Leader)” and “Theory of the Revolutionary Family” based on Juche are the core ideological foundations providing political legitimacy to the inheritance of power throughout the three generations of Kims. So, the hasty adaptation of the existing Juche might become risky for Kim due to the possibility of contradictions emerging during the process.
… since his ‘reign of terror,’ regularized after 2014, Kim has secured his position as the Suryong in North Korea
In addition, there is no need for Kim Jong Un to provide his own new political ideology today. If Kim were facing the risk of having to share his power – because of a lack of charisma or leadership – he would have been forced to manage the North Korean power structure – using Juche – to concentrate all of the power in himself. But since his “reign of terror,” regularized after 2014, Kim has secured his position as the Suryong in North Korea and might have not felt the need to walk a different path than his predecessors.
After 2015, during Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s address, his mentions of his grandfather (Kim Il Sung) and father (Kim Jong Il) started to decrease remarkably, but their names again appeared frequently during the recent Seventh Congress. This was because of the Congress’ characteristics, as it was aimed at settling the business of the last 36 years, while the New Year’s address was more focused on remembrance of the last single year. Also, the increased remarks on former leaders’ names show Kim Jong Un’s efforts to emphasize his legitimacy by reiterating his forefathers’ past accomplishments. In other words, Kim Jong Un, instead of diluting his predecessors’ accomplishments, is instead succeeding them while emphasizing that the very man for the job of completing their accomplishments would be the present Suryong, himself.
That is the reason why we may be able to say that the “Theory of Kim Il Sung-Kim Jong Il” is Kim Jong Un’s version of Juche ideology, aimed to maximize the synergizing political effect that he can get from overlapping the past and the present. The mixture of theoretical aspects from Juche and realistic practice is today’s “theory of Kim Il Sung-Kim Jong Il.”
Kim Jong Un, during the address interpreted the “theory of Kim Il Sung-Kim Jong Il” as “Juche Ideology – created by the great Kim Il Sung and intensely developed by Kim Jong Il – which brightened the ‘theory’ and method of revolution and construction.”
In saying so, Kim Jong Un stated that it is he who would be the one completing Juche and the process of practicing it.
A SOCIALIST ‘POWER HOUSE’
Also, he emphasized that the country will need constant effort to complete the socialist power house
During the Seventh Congress, Kim Jong Un made clear that North Korea’s final goal would be establishing a socialist “power house.” Kim said such a power house is made up of political-military, science-technology, economic and cultural power houses.
“Through the unprecedentedly severe hardships and blockages, we have started the great achievement to make the tremendous progress toward socialism,” said Kim, showing his approval of the fact that the state’s path toward the construction of a socialist power house was never easy. Also, he emphasized that the country will need constant effort to complete the socialist power house. Even the North Korean editorial posted in the May 6 edition of the Rodong Sinmun was entitled “For our complete victory through socialism, we must climb through the far and rough passages.”
For Kim Jong Un to establish such a power house, he will have to overcome many domestic and international challenges. As Kim said during the Congress, the biggest obstacle blocking such progress is “imperialists and their followers’ economic blockade, increase in political-military pressure and war provocations.” North Korea’s own domestic problems are blocking such progress as well. During the Congress, Kim intensely criticized the party’s sectarianism and corruption, and this was repeated in the final written decision presented by the party.
In the field of economics, the only way for Kim Jong Un to assure his own survival would be resolving the insecure coexistence of the planned economy and the market economy in the country, while recovering control of the centralized planned economy. Kim Jong Un’s interest in the state’s economy is shown very clearly in his five-year strategy for economic growth, planned for 2016 to 2020.
This is North Korea’s first multi-year economic plan to appear since its “third seven-year strategy” from 1987 to 1993. Multi-year plans like this can only be established based on one’s confidence in the allocation of resources, raising of finances and the acquisition of accurate statistical data. A five-year plan, which was not even tried during Kim Jong Il’s era, shows that he is now confident in the management of North Korea’s economy as well as feeling the urgency to strengthen the basics of the planned economy, by any means. His confidence in the North Korean economy was portrayed through his statement that “the process of Juche, modernization and science in people’s economy was fulfilled,” while his hidden worry over the economy was shown by his emphasis on energy production levels, especially in the state’s electricity output.
THE ‘DOUBLE CHECKMATE’ STRATEGY
“America’s anti-terror operations are now equal to the terror attacks its organizes, aimed at anti-American states, and are now the new form of war of aggression,” said Kim Jong Un, seeking to completely delegitimize Washington’s international strategy, in an exceptional North Korean statement, as Pyongyang has been regularly criticizing terrorism. Kim also did not hesitate to express his dissatisfaction over international society’s increasing pressure on North Korea’s violation of human rights, saying “imperialists are holding up the deceptive banner of ‘protection of human rights’ and interfering in the domestic affairs of sovereign states while annihilating and violating other countries’ independence.”
What follows from this logic is North Korea’s legitimation of nuclear weapons possession. The term “nuclear power house” appeared many times in Kim Jong Un’s statement, and the term “Eastern nuclear power house” was even used in the official written account of the Seventh Congress. This means that, according to the written decision, Pyongyang will “accomplish miniaturizing and diversifying nuclear weapons at a high standard and increasing the number of nuclear weapons to improve our country as an ‘Eastern nuclear power house.’”
This strong anti-American sentiment and emphasis on nuclear power can be interpreted in two different ways. First, it is part of Pyongyang’s efforts to interpret today’s inter-Korean conflict as “the U.S. vs North Korea,” in which Pyongyang is portrayed as a world power. This was seen in Kim Jong Un’s statement, in which he said “our party will arrange self-defensive military forces and crush the U.S. at every step, defending the Korean Peninsula and the world’s peace and safety.” Simply put, Pyongyang emphasized that as the country is now on the level of a nuclear state, and equal treatment that corresponds to such status will be vital for future dialogue.
On the other hand, this might be part of Pyongyang’s groundwork to increase the chances of solving future problems via dialogue
On the other hand, this might be part of Pyongyang’s groundwork to increase the chances of solving future problems via dialogue. In other words, it can be part of the extension of North Korea’s traditional international strategy – of maintaining confrontation and raising tensions while suggesting dialogue – to reach to the conclusion that maximizes Pyongyang’s benefit.
“America has to clearly see the change of trends in our republic’s strategic status – which is now a nuclear power house – and abandon its anachronistic anti-Chosun (North Korea) policy by changing from the current armistice to a peace treaty and withdrawing its invading army and instruments of war away from South Korea,” said Kim.
A POST-CONGRESS STRATEGY
The Seventh Congress can be interpreted as the proof that our sanctions, with the help of international society, have been effective in some ways. The fact that Kim Jong Un spent a huge part of his speech on the chances for inter-Korean dialogue hints that Pyongyang’s previous strategy of talking with Washington and blocking Seoul is changing to talking with both Washington and Seoul. Which deviates from Pyongyang’s traditional tactic of isolating Seoul and trying to make direct contact with Washington.
This change is aimed at admitting Seoul’s position, at least as the stepping-stone to reach the resumption of dialogue with Washington. This means South Korea’s role in sanctioning North Korea, at present, has been effective.
But at the same time Pyongyang’s message through the Congress raised the need for Seoul, in order to truly prompt changes in Pyongyang, to prepare an elaborate alternative strategy and groundwork a few steps ahead of the North.
Of course, North Korea’s emphasis on an inter-Korean confederation during the congress and suggestion of military talks are deceptive by nature and not even worth considering. Under these circumstances, North Korea conducting its fifth nuclear test would greatly help South Korea, as a higher level of sanctions is better for South Korea to gain diplomatic leverage.
But the problem is that we have to think of the possibility of Pyongyang aggressively taking a peace offensive toward Seoul while trying to change the mood toward the dialogue. If North Korean officials from the Foreign Ministry or military announce a moratorium on nuclear and missile, mention a peace treaty or suggest the early opening of high-level military talks between the two Koreas, Seoul has to get ready to come up with the persuasive logic – for both domestic and foreign audiences – as to “why” such deceptive rhetoric from Pyongyang is unacceptable to Seoul.
If Pyongyang asks for high-level military talks between the two, one possible method would be for Seoul to urge Pyongyang to “first make a promise to stop all of tactical provocations as well as strategic ones, such as nuclear or missile tests.” The same goes for Pyongyang’s urge for a peace treaty as well.
South Korea must prepare its logic for why, at the present stage, North Korea’s urge for a peace treaty between Pyongyang and Washington is meaningless, and why Seoul can’t halt ROK-U.S. joint military training, and the preconditions and alternatives for Seoul in case of peace talks.
This is a partial translation of Cha Du-hyeogn’s original work, first published on his Facebook and later by the Asan Institute.
Images: Rodong Sinmun