North Korea’s Party Congress: What was all the fuss about?

The 7th North Korean Workers’ Party (WPK) Congress –the first event of its kind in 36 years– began and ended with the flair for the dramatic we have come to expect from the reclusive communist state. Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un dialed up the party rhetoric and called on all workers to undertake 70 days of preparation to ensure that production numbers exceeded targets and every factory and public space was rigorously cleaned. Likewise, the congress ended with Pyongyang-style pomp and ceremony. A mass parade showcased precision military formation marching and the people’s choreographed exuberance for their dear leader. However, the substance of what occurred amidst the fanfare left many experts wondering what all the fuss was about.

There was the expected reaffirmation of the byongjin policy; a promotion of both economic and nuclear weapons development. The long standing policy, which Kim first reintroduced and updated in 2013 and has been the hallmark of his tenure as leader, received scant elaboration by Kim during the congress as to how the policy would fulfill its goal of turning North Korea into a strong and prosperous nation. Economic development will be pursued under a vaguely outlined five-year plan that will begin this year. This was a disappointment for global experts hoping to see more concrete policy direction emerge from such an important party event.

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