The Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) will hold a plenary meeting in “the latter half” of December, the country’s state media reported on Wednesday, in what will represent the second event of its kind this year.
Plans for the meeting, which will see one of the DPRK’s top policy-making organs hold its fifth plenary session since the ruling party’s 2016 congress, were agreed to by the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the WPK yesterday, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The Central Committee is set to use the meeting to “discuss and decide on crucial issues in line with the needs of the development of the Korean revolution and the changed situation at home and abroad,” it added.
Previous sessions of the Central Committee have also seen the ruling party reshuffle key positions, including promoting or demoting officials to the country’s powerful Politburo and party departments.
But given the timing of the meeting — days ahead of leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech and as North Korea nears a looming end-of-year deadline for diplomacy with the U.S. to produce results — proceedings are likely to focus on formulating a new foreign policy line for the coming year, one expert said.
“One can suppose that at least two topics will be discussed at this meeting: the deportation of North Korean overseas workers, to happen by December 22, and Kim Jong Un’s ultimatum to the U.S., which expires at midnight on New Year’s Day,” Fyodor Tertitskiy, a senior researcher at Seoul’s Kookmin University, said.
“It is possible that Kim Jong Un is convinced the situation will not change, and will start passing instructions on how to adapt to this new reality.”
Previous sessions of the Central Committee have typically seen the ruling party prepare for major announcements: the most recent in April saw Kim Jong Un discuss “the Party’s stand” on diplomacy with Washington and came just a day before he urged President Donald to make a “wise decision” before the end of the year.
“The North Koreans have, in my view, assessed that this is not going to happen; we should expect to learn what Kim has planned for the future here—after the end of this bout of diplomacy with the United States,” Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, told NK News.
It was at a ruling party Central Committee plenum in April 2018 that North Korea first announced its self-declared moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear testing, Panda noted.
“It is possible Kim may personally announce that the moratoria are no longer binding, even if this might cut at the unilateral reasons he had provided for their adoption in the first place.”
What steps North Korea will take following the expiration of its self-imposed deadline are unclear, however, though state media outlets and, this week, a senior diplomat have hinted that the move could see the country step-up provocative military actions.
Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst with NK News‘s sister site NK Pro, said that she had expected a major party meeting of this kind to take place early next year, and that Wednesday’s announcement demonstrated that North Korea was “once again ahead of the curve.”
As a result, she said, precedent suggested a major announcement is likely to emerge from the late-December plenum.
“Recall the byungjin announcement came at a party plenum in March 2013, and the shift from byungjin to the economy was made at another party plenum in April 2018,” she said.
“The reference to ‘in line with the demands of the changed internal and external situations’ suggests that Kim Jong Un will likely announce an important policy shift at the upcoming party plenum,” she added.
“That the North has opted to hold this meeting at the end of the year, rather than waiting until after the New Year’s address, seems to reflect the level of North Korea’s resolve and is consistent with North Korea’s growing skepticism about Washington’s willingness to withdraw its ‘hostile policy’ by the end of the year.”
News of the plenum also comes the same day as reports that DPRK leader Kim Jong Un had conducted his second visit this year to the country’s politically-symbolic Paektu Mountain in recent days.
That visit, which saw Kim tour revolutionary sites in and around the peak of the peninsula’s highest mountain, was hailed as being of “remarkable historic significance” by state media.
The North Korean leader was reported to have visited the site in order to steel the people “for the harshness and protracted character of our revolution.”
Analysts have previously noted that Kim Jong Un has often decided to visit Mt. Paektu ahead of major leadership decisions.
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured image: KCNA