N. Korea's Kim urges stronger military capabilities as congress ends

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said last week he would expand military capabilities to better defend the country.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said last week he would expand military capabilities to better defend the country.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for maximum military power and greater nuclear war deterrence, state news agency KCNA reported, as a rare ruling party congress came to a close after eight days of policy discussions.

The Eighth Party Congress comes less than two weeks before United States President-elect Joe Biden takes office and amid a prolonged gridlock in talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear and missile programmes in return for US sanction relief.

"We must do everything we can to increase nuclear war deterrence even further as we build the strongest military capability," the state news agency quoted Mr Kim as saying at the conclusion of the congress yesterday.

Thousands of delegates and attendees - none of them wearing masks - repeatedly rose to their feet in the cavernous April 25 House of Culture venue to interrupt his speech with applause.

Mr Kim said last week he would expand military capabilities to better defend the country and called for "placing state defence capabilities on a much higher level".

Since announcing a self-declared moratorium on nuclear testing and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches from 2018, Mr Kim has called for continued production of nuclear weapons for his arsenal, launched a series of smaller missiles, and unveiled what would be North Korea's largest ICBM yet at a parade in October.

The congress, which ran for eight days in Pyongyang, is the first since 2016, which was, in turn, the first since 1980.

At the gathering, Mr Kim was named the party's General Secretary, a title previously reserved for his father and predecessor Kim Jong Il, in what analysts said was a move to reinforce his authority.

He told the party congress last week that his five-year economic plan had failed to meet its goals, blaming international sanctions as well as unanticipated crises including the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters.

Separately, Ms Kim Yo Jong, the leader's sister and a member of the party's Central Committee, criticised South Korea's military for monitoring a parade in Pyongyang.

The move was an expression of the South's "hostile approach" towards the North, she said in a separate statement carried by KCNA.

South Korea's military said on Monday it had detected signs that North Korea held a night-time military parade on Sunday for its ruling Worker's Party congress.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2021, with the headline 'N. Korea's Kim urges stronger military capabilities as congress ends'. Print Edition | Subscribe