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North Korean Leaders Set Priorities

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

North Korea: The North Korean broadcast media and the Korean Central News Agency carried reports about a plenary meeting of the Korean Workers' Party Central Committee with convened in Pyongyang today. North Korea's constitution requires the full Central Committee to meet at least once a year. Emphasis added by NightWatch.


The agenda. The following items were listed:

"1.On tasks of our Party on bringing about a decisive turn in accomplishing revolutionary cause of juche (trans. self-reliance) as required by the present situation and the developing revolution",

"2. On personnel affairs issue to be submitted to the 7th Session of the 12th Supreme People's Assembly" and

"3. On organizational matters".

"The plenary meeting presents a new strategic line on carrying out economic construction and building nuclear armed forces simultaneously under the created situation and to meet the legitimate requirements of the developing revolution."

"It was stressed at the meeting that the party's new line is not a temporary countermeasure for coping with the rapidly changing situation but a strategic line to be always held fast to, in the supreme interests of the Korean revolution."

"The nuclear weapons of songun (trans. military-first) Korea are not goods for getting U.S. dollars and they are neither a political bargaining chip nor a thing for economic dealings to be presented to the place of dialogue or be put on the table of negotiations aimed at forcing the DPRK to disarm itself…."

"Forces should be directed to agriculture and light industry, key fields in building an economic power to improve and put on a stable basis the people's living standard at the earliest possible date."

"The self-reliant nuclear power industry should be developed and the work for developing light water reactor be dynamically promoted to actively contribute to easing the strain on the electricity problem of the country."


"Spurs should be given to the development of space science and technology and more advanced satellites including communications satellites be developed and launched."

"The country's economy should be shifted into knowledge-based economy and the foreign trade be made multilateral and diversified and investment be widely introduced."

The DPRK's possession of nukes should be fixed by law and the nuclear armed forces should be expanded and beefed up qualitatively and quantitatively until the denuclearization of the world is realized.

"The People's Army should perfect the war method and operation in the direction of raising the pivotal role of the nuclear armed forces in all aspects concerning the war deterrence and the war strategy, and the nuclear armed forces should always round off the combat posture."

"As a responsible nuclear weapons state, the DPRK will make positive efforts to prevent the nuclear proliferation, ensure peace and security in Asia and the rest of the world and realize the denuclearization of the world."

Comment: North Korean leaders certainly did not expect war this weekend, having convened the entire top party leadership in one location to discuss the new "line", economic goals and normal party appointments. A number of people received promotions to fill vacancies in the departments of the Central Committee - which are almost never announced - as well as in the Political Bureau.

The term the "new line" is a classic communist term. Adoption of a new line is a significant action by a communist party because the "line" guides all the energies of all the people and institutions. For example, in the 1920's in the Soviet Union, the line was Lenin's New Economic Policy that tolerated capitalism as an expedient for the survival of the state.


The statement that this is not a temporary measure spotlights the importance of the new line as national guidance. Numerous articles about the new line may be expected in the party daily Rodong Sinmun and other North Korean outlets. Nationwide party meetings also may be expected, aimed at explaining the new line.

Kim's new line links nuclear weapons and economic progress by means of a now fledgling North Korean nuclear energy sector. It is significant that Kim mentioned economic construction ahead of building nuclear armed forces. What is new is that both will proceed simultaneously and will be self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency, juche, is the core precept in the North's political-economic philosophy.

The Party theoreticians have been working overtime to square these circles, to harmonize indirectly related sectors. By directing simultaneous development, Kim is sidestepping the longstanding and highly divisive internal debate over national prioritie:  military improvement vs improvement in the people's living standard.

The managers of the economy received orders to modernize, including developing Information Technology for export. They also are to develop nuclear energy, finishing the light water reactor projects begun under the Agreed Framework of the Clinton administration.

The report of the plenum restates North Korea's insistence that nuclear weapons are not negotiable, not a bargaining chip, not a medium of exchange for aid. The reference to fixing them in law seems to imply that they are to be considered central to understanding North Korea.


Politically, all of North Korean preparations and threats require Allied responses and plans to fight a nuclear-armed North Korea. Good judgment requires such prudent precautions. Nevertheless, those precautions provide Kim Jong Un at least part of what he wants: acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear armed state, which the US has thus far denied.

What this means is that Kim Jong Un and his advisors judged that the only way to compel US acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear armed state was to threaten a nuclear war, which is what they have been threatening. If acceptance was a primary objective, they seem to have succeeded, at least de facto.

However, if they want de jure recognition, they are short of the mark. Much depends on how the US and the UN treat North Korea going forward. Back channel feelers for talks seem likely so as to give the North Koreans feedback on whether their war threats have achieved the recognition they seek.

The plenum also suggests the start of an easing of tension; that the crisis will begin to wind down. At a minimum it is strong action pointing towards a return to normality. The Central Committee publicly has signaled in English and Korean that the leadership has now moved on to more mundane matters. They included appointments of party cadre to fill vacancies as well as economic management.

The return of the civilian population to normal conditions will be the surest sign that normality has begun to return. The start of spring planting and the spring festival are due in April.


The Kaesong Joint Industrial Zone.

On Saturday, 30 March, the Korean Central Broadcasting Station and the Central News Agency published a statement by the North Korean bureau responsible for the development of the Kaesong Industrial zone. The message was that the Zone is in jeopardy, but not terminated in order to help out the South Korean business men and workers who would be hurt by a closure.

"The North-South military hotline was cut off in connection with the development in which the Armistice Agreement has been completely nullified and a wartime situation has set in. Accordingly, there exists neither a channel of dialogue nor any means of communication between the North and the South now."

"As a result, the passage of southern personnel through the Kaesong Industrial Zone is proceeding in an extremely precarious state. Currently, there is no visibility whatsoever as to the fate of the Kaesong Industrial Zone."

(Note: omitted are three paragraphs of reasons why the continued operation of the zone is an anomaly in the current situation, and should be closed.)

"Nevertheless, we are exercising extreme self-restraint out of consideration for the fact that the livelihoods of small and medium enterprises in the southern half depend on the Kaesong Industrial Zone project and that its immediate closure will cause those enterprises to go bankrupt with people put out of work.

If the gang of puppets tries to damage our dignity even by a little, while speaking ill of and ranting about the Kaesong Industrial Zone barely in operation, we will shut down and close the industrial zone with no mercy.


"We do what we say we will do, and the fate of the Kaesong Industrial Zone in jeopardy is entirely dependent on the attitude of the gang of puppets. We will watch the course of action the gang of puppet traitors and the reactionary media take from now on."

We warn that we will take stern measures, should the antics insulting our dignity continue.

Comment: This statement indicates that the North is willing to let the Kaesong project continue, provided the South does not mention the North's need for hard currency. That is the offensive language that insults North Korean dignity. In other words, the very idea that North Korea needs anything from South Korea or the US is an affront, under this Kim.

His father was more than willing to accept hundreds of thousands of tons of rice aid from the South in the mid-1990's, during the flood and famine years.

The ironic dimension of the statement is the reasoning that Kaesong stays open because South Korea needs it.  North Korea never expresses concern about the profitability of South Korean companies and jobs for South Korean workers.

This statement carries yet another conditional threat of retaliation. The North's willingness to let the zone stay open for any reason is more than an "anomaly." It is an indication that the North is not ready for a war and has made no decision to attack, except conditionally. A thousand foreign workers so close to the front are huge security problem, among other things, even if they are kept as hostages.

Mali: Malian soldiers backed by French fighter jets clashed with Islamist militants in Timbuktu after militants used a car bomb to cover their overnight incursion into the city, according to Reuters.


Comment: Timbuktu supposedly was secured more than a month ago.

End of NightWatch


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