Rare party congress opens in North Korea

Mr Kim hailed the "great success" of its nuclear weapon test and rocket launch of a satellite.
A schoolgirl saluting visiting delegations of foreign journalists and tourists at the Mangyongdae Children's Palace in Pyongyang on Thursday, prior to the start of song and dance performances by schoolchildren. Some 130 foreign journalists are in the North's capital to cover the ruling Workers' Party congress, which began yesterday and is the party's first since 1980.PHOTO: REUTERS
A schoolgirl saluting visiting delegations of foreign journalists and tourists at the Mangyongdae Children's Palace in Pyongyang on Thursday, prior to the start of song and dance performances by schoolchildren. Some 130 foreign journalists are in the
Mr Kim hailed the "great success" of its nuclear weapon test and rocket launch of a satellite.

PYONGYANG • North Korea has opened the first congress of its ruling Workers' Party in 36 years, with its leader Kim Jong Un expected to consolidate his control over a country that has grown increasingly isolated over its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

But delegates from China were absent from the once-in-a-generation party congress yesterday, Chinese media said, in a potential sign of fraying ties between Pyongyang and its most important ally.

Mr Kim said in his opening speech that "unprecedented results have been accomplished" with the "great success" of its January test of a nuclear weapon and February rocket launch of a satellite into space.

 

Ahead of the event, the state-run KCNA news agency credited military scientists and engineers with the accomplishments that are "the greatest gifts" for the party congress. It also touted production in the industrial sector that hit 144 per cent of its target and electricity generation of 110 per cent, although the actual targets were not given.

North Korea's state television began its daily broadcast earlier than usual yesterday, with special programming heralding the feats of its leaders. State radio said the 7th Workers' Party congress would "unveil the brilliant blueprint to bring forward the final victory of our revolution", according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

Thousands of delegates from around North Korea had been expected to attend the first congress to be held since 1980. It is not clear if any foreign delegates were invited to attend.

Foreign analysts expect Mr Kim Jong Un to formally adopt his "Byongjin" policy of simultaneously pursuing nuclear weapons and economic development, and to further consolidate his power.

The meeting also drew around 130 foreign journalists, who were invited to cover the event but not allowed inside the April 25 House of Culture, the stone structure draped in red party flags, where the congress is expected to run for several days. They instead watched from a spot 200m away in a drizzle.

Foreign analysts expect Mr Kim, 33, to formally adopt his "Byongjin" policy of simultaneously pursuing nuclear weapons and economic development, and to further consolidate his power.

"Kim is after catching two rabbits, a nuclear arsenal and economic development, and he's likely going to declare the country is a nuclear weapons state," said Mr Yang Moo Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

China, the North's lone major ally and its economic lifeline, had backed the latest United Nations resolutions in March toughening sanctions on North Korea, after growing frustrated over its nuclear tests. The relationship between the nations has become increasingly strained.

China's representatives were not invited to the gathering yesterday, said the Global Times, a newspaper with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party. A large Chinese delegation attended the 1980 congress.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, at a daily briefing in Beijing, declined to confirm that no Chinese officials had attended the congress, but said North Korea was at an important stage in its national development. "We also hope North Korea can listen to the voice of the international community, and jointly maintain North-east Asia's lasting peace and stability."

Mr Zheng Jiyong, director of the Centre for Korean Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times: "North Korea wants to maintain its independent stance. It can't decide who to invite because it involves the interests of many sides."

In an editorial, the paper said that while Beijing is "resolutely opposing Pyongyang's nuclear development", it will not join others in "cursing" North Korea.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2016, with the headline 'Rare party congress opens in N. Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe