June 02, 2020

With Byungjin, Kim Jong Un hedges his bets
Despite economic emphasis, planks of North Korean strategy hold fail-safe in event of setbacks

Long before the Seventh Congress of the Worker’s Party of Korea, Kim Jong Un very clearly sought to associate himself with his grandfather in rhetoric, mannerisms and visual appearance. He has also sought to emphasize economic growth in the way his grandfather did but his father did not. Indeed, his personal brand is very much associated with the economy. Kim Jong Un has also worked to emphasize the DPRK’s military might, in particular its nuclear arsenal, calling this dual track “the Byungjin line.” He’s referenced it several times since the congress opened.

The major question is: Can he develop both the economy and nuclear weapons? To many outside observers this seems like trying to have one’s cake and eat it, too, despite other countries developing both their military and economy simultaneously. The answer, for Pyongyang, lies in how skillfully they manage China and the U.S., especially given that the latter (and increasingly the former) seeks to force the country to choose one or the other.