North Korea recently announced a Party Congress date has been set for May 6 – the first time the ruling party has gathered for a legislatorial session in thirty-six years. The announcement of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s Seventh Congress has led to speculation as to what news Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un plans to reveal.
According to CNN on April 27, the one-party republic and socialist state hasn’t gathered for a public congress since 1980. That session “peaked with the announcement that Kim Jong Il, the father of the country’s current leader, would succeed Kim Il-sung, the regime’s founder, as leader,” CNN reported.
Speculation abounds as to why North Korea’s Political Bureau, headed by Kim Jong-un, called for a congress. Most believe Pyongyang will make some sort of economic announcement – tied into their robustly touted nuclear programs.
“We do expect some kind of big announcement at the party congress, most likely some kind of economic policy,” commented Jenny Town, assistant director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
“It would be a positive direction but miscalculated, because even if they’ve been hyper-signaling their nuclear capabilities only for domestic propaganda purposes, it will be difficult to make good on economic promises,” Town said.
North Korea is under harsh sanctions as the state continuous to test launch missiles in recent weeks – defying the prohibitions imposed by the United Nations. Pyongyang conducted a fourth nuclear test in January, and the following month launched a ballistic missile test. A potential fifth nuclear test to coincide with the party opening next week is also anticipated, says South Korean President Park Geun-Hye.
“Although the current sanctions are strong, we can impose even stronger sanctions that fill up any holes,” Geun-Hye said, according to AFP News.
U.S. officials will be scrutinizing the congress for the announcement of any key policy changes or if Kim Jong-un reshuffles his heads of state. North’s official KCNA news agency said next week’s gathering is expected to last “four or five days,” and reported the party is being convened only to reflect “the demand of the party and the developing revolution.”
In February, the U.S. flexed a little of its own missile muscle, firing a Cold War-era ICBM Minuteman missile off the coast of California. The missile traveled west at speeds up to 55K mph, soaring nearly 5,000 miles before dropping into the ocean about 2,100 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii. The launch was meant to get North Korea’s attention, and one-up the totalitarian dictatorship, which has suffered a number of embarrassing failed missile launches.