On party founding anniversary, North Korea bolsters Kim Jong Un’s leadership
The Rodong Sinmun's unusual emphasis of Kim tracks with post-Hanoi developments
North Korea’s party daily Rodong Sinmun, the country’s most authoritative media outlet which most accurately represents the top leadership’s calculus and intent, carried out a campaign playing up Kim Jong Un’s “party-building accomplishments” in the lead-up to and on the 74th founding anniversary of the Workers Party of Korea (WPK) on October 10.
The daily’s WPK-related coverage between October 1 and 10 — heavier than normal for a non-quinquennial and non-decennial anniversary year — highlighted the leader’s achievements to strengthen the party since he took power in 2012, including the major party meetings and his various ideological works.
This was a major departure from previous years’ handling of the WPK founding anniversary, where the primary emphasis was on the party-building achievements of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, with the focus on Kim Jong Un being his continuation of the late leaders’ accomplishments.
The very reference to Kim Jong Un’s “party-building accomplishments” is unusual. Prior to this campaign, state media typically reserved this term for the late leaders, with Kim Jong Un sometimes lumped in with them.
One major exception was a Rodong Sinmun editorial on April 29, 2016, which was dedicated to his “party-building accomplishments” ahead of the Seventh Party Congress slated for early May of that year.
The campaign began on October 1, with the party daily publishing the first of a multiple-part series exclusively dedicated to Kim Jong Un’s party leadership.
Emblematic of the emphasis on the incumbent leader, Rodong Sinmun published with the article a photo featuring only Kim Jong Un, which was rare — if not unprecedented — for commemorating the party founding.
Emphasis on post-2012 era
This year’s Rodong Sinmun party founding anniversary editorial attributed the party’s success in the “new century of juche” — a reference to the year 2012, which marked the year 101 in the Juche calendar and the first year of Kim Jong Un’s leadership — directly to Kim Jong Un.
“All the victories and successes achieved along the road of advance in the new century of juche are the victories of the idea and politics of the respected and beloved Comrade Supreme Leader’s single-hearted unity,” it said.
The editorial also called for learning “the revolutionary leadership history of the respected and beloved Comrade Supreme Leader, who has led our party and revolution to a victory in the new century of juche.”
By contrast, the party daily’s WPK founding anniversary editorial in 2018 associated the post-2012 period’s successes to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and the party:
“The new century of juche is a dynamic time where the great leaders’ [Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il] ideas and achievements are emitting rays as eternal treasures of our party and revolution… The marvelous successes and events achieved…in the new century of juche all have been brought about by our party through the might of single-hearted unity.”
The editorial’s attribution of the “new year of juche” to Kim Jong Un this year builds on authoritative party daily articles’ connection of this term to Kim Jong Un’s “era” earlier in the year.
Previously, state media mentioned this formulation in connection with Kim Jong Un’s leadership, without implying or describing it as his “era.”
A “political essay” on April 20 noted that Kim Jong Un’s “historic speech…at the meaningful [Kim Il Sung] Square, which told of the solemn beginning of the new century of juche, was like a solemn roar of the gun and a resounding marching song of the great Kim Jong Un era.”
An “Editorial Bureau special article [EBSA]” on June 12 made the connection more explicit by saying the “new century of juche is in name and reality an era shining with the esteemed name of respected and beloved Comrade Supreme Leader.”
In an apparent move to further highlight Kim’s party leadership since 2012, the party daily daily introduced a new expression in connection with Kim Jong Un: “in the last seven to eight years.” (Emphasis added by the author)
An EBSA on October 2 praised the party’s enhanced unity and leadership role “in the last seven to eight years.” The party daily on October 7 published an interview with Academy of Social Sciences researchers on the “miracles and change” achieved under the party “in the last seven to eight years.”
Part of the broader leadership campaign
The party daily’s unusual promotion of Kim Jong Un marking the party founding anniversary this year is the latest in a series of leadership campaigns Pyongyang has conducted since late February.
North Korea launched a media campaign on the day of Kim’s departure for Hanoi for the second DPRK-U.S. summit that brought state propaganda of Kim to a new level.
It likened Kim to a “father” and the North Korean people to “children” while describing the people’s yearning for their leader who was on a faraway trip for the sake of the people.
State media’s Kim Jong Un propaganda intensified after the failed Hanoi summit, as exemplified by an extremely rare spate of highly authoritative EBSAs and Rodong Sinmun-Kulloja “joint special articles” on the leader between May and September.
The most notable among these was the EBSA on June 12, which was dedicated exclusively to Kim Jong Un: EBSAs typically elaborate on party ideologies in which the DPRK leadership aims to indoctrinate the populace, rather than focusing exclusively on a Kim leader’s greatness.
Another notable milestone was North Korea’s first official commemoration of Kim Jong Un’s State Affairs Commission (SAC) chairman election anniversary this past June, three years after he was first elected to that position in 2016.
The “central report meeting” on June 28 clearly captured Kim Jong Un’s elevated status as the SAC chairman by placing his sole portrait in the backdrop of the stage for the first time at a national meeting.
Finally, North Korea conducted back-to-back constitutional revisions in April and August that increased Kim Jong Un’s powers as SAC chairman.
These revisions were remarkable for reinstating to the SAC chairman at least some of the powers that Kim Il Sung enjoyed as the DPRK “president.”
For example, the SAC chairman’s representation of the state and right to promulgate laws, decrees, and decisions are similar to the DPRK president’s powers under the 1972 DPRK constitution.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA
- 01What to make of Kim Jong Un’s impromptu visit to Mount Paektu this week
- 02On party founding anniversary, North Korea bolsters Kim Jong Un’s leadership
- 03Fueling the country: tracking North Korea’s growing number of gas stations
- 04North Korea reinforces ideological education against “bourgeois” values
- 05“New ways of calculation”: Kim Myong Gil’s Stockholm press conference, in full
- 06The DPRK foreign ministry’s readout of Stockholm talks: key takeaways
- 07Why U.S.-North Korea talks in Sweden fell apart — and what might happen next
- 08N. Korea’s new submarine-launched ballistic missile: unpacking the Pukguksong-3