North Korea’s ruling party has announced that it will hold its congress every five years, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Saturday, as leader Kim Jong Un seeks to regularize important regime meetings.
Prior to the amendment to the party’s rules, the congress — where Kim has announced key regime decisions and plans, including at the current one — had been sporadically held, with the last one in 2016 marking the first in 36 years.
The move came on Friday, the fifth day of the ruling party’s congress, where Kim has announced a spate of policy plans, including a goal to bolster the county’s nuclear arsenal. North Korean state-run media typically reports on key events a day after they are held.
Also during the fifth day of the congress, the ruling party said it would clarify in its rules that “powerful defense capabilities” would “safeguard the stability and peaceful environment of the Korean peninsula,” KCNA reported.
Kim has stuck to a familiar playbook at the party congress, vowing to develop more advanced nuclear weapons and missiles and lambasting the United States as its “principal enemy,” less than two weeks before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
Kim delivered the challenge to Biden on Friday, saying that Washington’s “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang would continue regardless of who occupies the White House.
“Our foreign political activities should be focused and redirected on suppressing and subduing the U.S., our principal enemy and main obstacle” to the North’s development,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying during a marathon nine-hour report to the congress.
“No matter who is in power in the United States, the true nature of the U.S. and its fundamental policies toward North Korea never change,” Kim said, vowing to bolster ties with “anti-imperialist, independent forces.”
The North Korean leader laid out a plan to further upgrade his nuclear arsenal by continuing to develop tactical nuclear weapons, which are smaller and lighter than standard bombs and are designed for the battlefield or limited strikes. He also said the country would continue to refine its ability to make large warheads and improve his military’s ability to conduct “preemptive” and “retaliatory” strikes on strategic targets as far as 15,000 km (9,300 miles) away.
While signaling a desire to develop land and submarine-launched solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that can be deployed and moved more easily than liquid-fueled weapons, Kim also vowed to build reconnaissance satellites and drones.
Perhaps most ominously in the near-term, Kim said the country was preparing for the test and production of a variety of new weapons, including a missile capable of carrying multiple warheads and “hypersonic gliding flight warheads” for a new type of missile. Research on a nuclear submarine — separate from a modified submarine revealed in 2019 — was also nearly complete, Kim added.
The North has not tested a nuclear bomb or launched a long-range missile since last 2017, but experts say the country has continued to build up and refine its arsenal, even after Kim’s three meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump.
A new weapons test by Pyongyang, especially of a longer-range missile, could have dire repercussions for the incoming U.S. administration’s North Korea policy, potentially handcuffing it to a harder-line approach and rallying regional allies like Japan around strengthened sanctions and moves to further isolate the country.
Still, Kim’s regime has been careful in both its words and actions so as not to alienate Biden after his defeat of Trump in the November U.S. presidential election and ahead of his Jan. 20 swearing-in.
During his speech Friday to the congress, Kim did “not rule out diplomacy.” Instead, he said his plans to bolster the country’s nuclear “war deterrent” was intended to gain leverage in dealing with Washington and its allies in order to “drive diplomacy in the right direction and guarantee its success” in achieving “peace” on the Korean Peninsula.
The party congress was continuing Sunday, but state-run media gave no indication as to when it might conclude.
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