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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.
DPRK leader Kim Jong Un at a meeting with military officials held this week in Pyongyang urged members of the Korean Peoples’ Army (KPA) to intensify political education and develop into an “ideologically-prepared elite force.”
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and the Rodong Sinmun reported Wednesday that the fifth meeting of company commanders and political instructors of the KPA has been held on Monday and Tuesday.
In addition to the DPRK leader, state media reported that high-ranking military officials including Ri Myong Su, Kim Su Gil, Ri Yong Gil, and No Kwang Chol, had attended the conference, along with “exemplary company leaders and political instructors.”
The meeting was the first of company commanders and political instructors of the KPA since October 2013, and the second since Kim Jong Un took power.
KCNA on Wednesday said that lessons learned in the process of “embodying the spirit of the fourth meeting” had been discussed at the two-day meeting, as well as “tasks and ways for further enhancing the responsibility and role of company leaders and political instructors.”
This, the report continued, was “required for modeling the entire army on Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism.”
In his speech, Kim Jong Un stressed the importance of the role and responsibility of company commanders and political instructors in developing soldiers into “elite combat units,” describing them as the two pillars of the DPRK military.
The DPRK leader also “set forth in detail ways to steadily deepen the essential five-point education” among soldiers, with the objective of “developing the revolutionary armed forces into an ideologically-prepared elite force.”
To this end, Kim also urged attendees to “vigorously conduct education in the revolutionary tradition” and actively seek to “make soldiers adorn every moment of their military service with loyalty.”
“Five-point education” refers to an ideological educational program in North Korea focusing on, among other things, patriotism, morality, and anti-imperialism, according to the database provided by South Korea’s unification ministry.
Army General Kim Su Gil, director of the General Political Bureau of the KPA, also emphasized the importance of “building a politico-ideologically strong army” by “vigorously pushing forward the essential five-point education.”
In addition to ideological education, the North Korean leader also in his speech stressed the importance of “strengthening practical field and mind training,” saying soldiers should learn to manage weapons and combat equipment “like the pupils of their eyes.”
South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) on Wednesday said it assessed that the conference was held “to solidify the [North Korean] system or enhance the loyalty of the military.”
Fyodor Tertitskiy, an expert on North Korean politics and the military, said these kinds of conferences aim to encourage participants to “be more vigorous in teaching and indoctrinating soldiers.”
“Company commander and company political instructors are the two most important people in the life of an ordinary KPA-enlisted man or woman,” he told NK News.
“They are responsible for his/her training and morale, they decide who is to be admitted to the Party,” he added, adding that the membership of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) is the “most popular reason to join the armed forces.”
The timing is this week’s meeting is notable, with Kim Jong Un saying in his opening speech that the country’s “national power has been advanced incessantly in a harsh environment.”
KCNA reported, however, that the DPRK leader said that he believes there “will be nothing to fear… because reliable comrades in revolutionary military uniform who guard the party, the fatherland, and the people stand beside him.”
Kim also said he had wanted to meet with his “beloved soldiers” who he “always missed even during his long journey to a foreign country” — a reference to his trip to Vietnam last month.
The current situation demands the KPA strengthen its combat capability more than any other time, he added.
During the two-day conference, participants also, notably, discussed the importance of “drawing lessons from the faults made by some company leaders and company political instructors.”
Those officials, it was reported, had “failed to take good care of soldiers’ living and conduct substantial training, and ways of thoroughly rectifying them.”
In response, Kim Jong Un praised the achievements raised during the discussions “one by one” while “earnestly” calling on participants to “actively learn from the excellent achievements made by those units which are taking the lead.”
The North Korean leader also asked them to conduct in-depth research on shared good experiences and implement those lessons across the entire military to ensure “substantial development in strengthening the companies.”
The first meeting of company commanders and political instructors of the KPA took place under North Korea’s founding President Kim Il Sung in October 1973, though it appears to have been held on an irregular basis since then.
Although the format and key themes of the speech were similar to those in 2013, NK Pro analyst Minyoung Lee said DPRK media appears to have downplayed its coverage compared to previous years.
“It remains to be seen whether Kim Jong Un will make more appearances with the participants in the 5th meeting of KPA company commanders and company political instructors,” she said.
“As of today, however, state media’s handling of the meeting (one single report) is much lower profile compared to the 4th meeting in 2013,” she added.
2013, Lee pointed out, saw the DPRK leader attend a KPA firepower strike training and a musical performance with participants, as well as guide a shooting competition.
“The higher-profile handling in 2013 tracked with Kim Jong Un’s heavier focus on the military at the time,” she argued.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Rodong Sinmun