The leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, begins the year with a new position that elevates him to the top of power and contributes to further exalt his figure at the head of the regime.
Kim was appointed general secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party, of which he was until now president, in a change that reflects his willingness to strengthen his power, according to analysts.
The new position is the one held by his father and grandfather. And from there, he will surely seek to rebuild the course of the country, especially the economy, which is heavily affected by international sanctions and more isolated than ever due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The appointment came on the sixth day of the eighth congress of the North Korean single party, which is held in Pyongyang, the state agency KCNA reported on Monday.
The designation has above all strong internal significanceAs the last general secretary so far had been his father, Kim Jong-il, who obtained the position in 1997 and held it until his death in 2011.
The Eighth Congress of the North Korean single party, this Monday in Pyongyang. Photo: AP
The legacy of his grandfather
But almost more important is to draw the parallels with his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the founder of the regime and the most revered figure in North Korea, who after his death in 1994 was named “eternal president” of the country.
Kim Jong-un was promoted to first secretary in 2012, shortly after the death of his father, and at the previous party congress in 2016 he became president, a rank that his grandfather also held between 1949 and 1966, when, like now his grandson became “chongseogi” (general secretary).
The decision thus appears aimed at constructing a narrative that, again, brings to the memory of North Koreans Kim Il-sung, something that the regime has tried to do since Kim Jong-un came to power by taking advantage of the huge similarities both physical and character between grandfather and grandson.
At a time when the country seems to go through its worst economic crisis in years It seems sensible to link the figure of the young leader to that of his grandfather – synonymous with the military victories concocted by propaganda and (relative) prosperity – and not so much to that of his father, who is sullen and associated with the terrible famine of the 90’s.
The inner circle
Changes in the party’s organization chart also meant the appointment of Jo Yong-won, considered a close associate of Kim, as one of five members of the presidium of the political bureau, the party’s main decision-making body.
Jo replaced Pak Pong-ju, and became one of the five most powerful figures in the regime along with the other four members of that board: Kim Jong-un himself, Choi Ryong-hae, Ri Pyong-chol and Kim Tok -hun.
Many eyes were on him, since since he began to accompany the leader on his periodic visits back in 2014 he did not stop gaining prominence, to the point of being appointed alternate member of the political bureau and deputy director of the Department of Organization and Orientation in 2019 , the powerful body that oversees the party.
Jo is the official who has appeared in public the most times in the last five years with the leader, whom he accompanied in important weapons tests, on his trip to China in 2018, at a summit with the southern president, Moon Jae-in; or in two others with the US president, Donald Trump.
The unknown about the sister
For her part, the leader’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, also considered one of the most powerful people in the regime, was not included in the list of alternate members of the party’s political bureau, where she was included for the first time in 2017.
HaKim Yo-jong, sister of the North Korean leader, another figure of weight in Pyongyang. Photo: EFE
Many experts hoped that this year, in which Kim Yo-jong gained even more prominence by becoming the regime’s spokesman on foreign policy on many occasions, she would be appointed to that list of officials.
However, other officials point out that her absence does not imply a loss of status for the sister.
Approach to the United States?
Beyond the internal reorganization of the single party, in the course of the congress Kim Jong-un called on the incoming government of Joe Biden in the United States to propose new alternatives to resume the stuck dialogue on denuclearization, warning that the North Korean army prepares new weapons tests.
This same Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was a key intermediary in getting Kim to hold three summits with Trump, said he will meet with North Korean representatives “wherever and whenever” to rekindle ties and the peace process and disarm.
Some analysts claim that North Korea took advantage of this Congress to send a message of challenge to Biden, but wisely, after the tumultuous relationship between Kim and Trump.
Everything seems to indicate that this congress was also an occasion for Pyongyang to hold a military parade.
The South Korean military claims to have detected indications that the parade took place on Sunday night but does not know if it was “the event itself or a rehearsal.”
In October there was a huge parade to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party. A gigantic ICBM was seen there.
By Andrés Sánchez Braun, EFE agency