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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korea held the 8th Conference of the Munitions Industry on Monday and claimed that the country had achieved “military miracles” within one or two years, state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
The development is notable because the coverage of the event marked the first time state media had reported on the conference, an official from the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) said about the KCNA coverage on Tuesday.
Analysts told NK News that this may demonstrate Kim Jong Un’s desire to burnish his political accomplishments as the first North Korean leader to successfully launch intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology.
KCNA reported that the conference opened in Pyongyang at a time when the DPRK has shown off “the dignity of the nuclear power of Juche” by launching the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The purpose of the meeting was to review the achievements of the munition industry and to discuss measures for “ushering in a heyday of development of the Juche-base defense industry,” KCNA said.
The presenter called for participants to develop more “Korean-style, powerful Juche weapons”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attended the conference, and Thae Jong Su, a Politburo member and vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), gave a report at the meeting.
“Our fatherland can proudly join the ranks of world-class nuclear and military powers by achieving military miracles – which couldn’t be achieved by others for decades – in just one or two years due to our dear respected Supreme Leader’s tearful patriotic devotion and undaunted fighting spirit,” Thae said according to KCNA.
Thae specifically referred to two H-bomb tests, the March 18 revolution, the July 4 revolution, the miraculous victory of July 28, and the great victory of November 29, calling them “extra-large auspicious events in the history of the nation.”
Thae also called for participants to develop more “Korean-style, powerful Juche weapons.”
“He said [Pyongyang] should bolster the state nuclear force in quality and quantity by utilizing today’s resounding success as a launch pad for bigger victory and speeding up,” KCNA said in its Korean version.
But Thae maintained that the DPRK has already established a “solid material and technical foundation to produce more powerful nuclear weapons as intended.”
He also described the period of time from the 7th Conference of Munitions Industry to the present as “the victorious and glorious days which could prove the legitimacy and vitality of the Party’s policy” of developing self-defense capabilities based on nuclear weapons.
Although Monday’s event was of the 8th ever Conference of Munitions Industry, an official from the South Korean unification ministry said that North Korea’s media had not reported on past conferences.
“This is the first time [for North Korea] to open the Conference of Munitions Industry,” the official – who wished to remain anonymous – told media.
Pyongyang intended to “reinforce [Kim Jong Un’s] leadership and highlight his political achievement”
The MOU official said North Korean media coverage of the meeting was “exceptional” given that it is possible the conference has convened since the era of North Korea’s late founder Kim Il Sung.
Pyongyang put emphasis on “the legitimacy of the byungjin line,” the name for the North’s policy of simultaneously pursuing economic growth and the nuclear buildup, as well as on the basic policy stances which Pyongyang has maintained since the regime of Kim Jong Il, the official added.
“It appears that [the conference] is used as an opportunity to strengthen solidarity among residents by showing off achievements after launching Hwasong-15 and [declaring] the completion of state nuclear forces.”
Lim Jae-cheon, a professor at Korea University’s North Korean studies department, said the Conference of Munitions Industry is “certainly important” considering the status of the munitions industry in the DPRK, despite the fact that North Korean media had not previously reported on the conference.
Lim explained that the North Korean regime had preferentially distributed national resources to the munitions industry after Kim Il Sung adopted the byungjin policy in 1962.
But both Lim and Oh Gyeong-seob, a research fellow in the North Korean Studies Division of the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), said the rare media report was related to Kim Jong Un’s grip on power.
“Nuclear weapons are the achievement of Kim Jong Il, as is clarified in North Korea’s constitution, but the development of missiles is Kim Jong Un’s accomplishment, as Kim Jong Il didn’t succeed in launching long-range missiles,” Lim told NK News. “From this perspective, the media report was to strengthen Kim Jong Un’s political legitimacy.”
Oh said Pyongyang intended to “reinforce his leadership and highlight his political achievement.”
Nuclear weapons are the achievement of Kim Jong Il, but the development of missiles is Kim Jong Un’s accomplishment
“Kim Jong Un had virtually no political accomplishments, and his leadership was very weak,” Oh said. “Therefore he needed to demonstrate certain achievements.”
But Oh also said the conference was significant because North Korean participants could “intensively” conduct technical assessments and reviews to achieve the goal of bolstering the country’s nuclear force.
KNCA reported Tuesday that participants exchanged “achievements and good experience gained in the defense science research” and analyzed “intrinsic faults and lessons in the fields of defense science and munitions industry.”
Attendees at the conference included No Kwang Chol, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the WPK; Jang Chang Ha, President of the DPRK Academy of Defense Science; Hong Sung Mu and Hong Yong Chil, Deputy Directors of the WPK Machine-Building Industry Department; and Jon Il Ho.
Lim said the absence of Ri Pyong Chol and Kim Jong Sik – previously front men for missile development – at the munitions conference may suggest changes in their status within the Party.
Edited by Bryan Betts
Featured Image: Korean Central News Agency (KNCA)