This week’s ‘Latest from North Korea’ analyses the August 6 to 12, 2018 Editions of the ‘Rodong Sinmun’, the Workers’ Party of Korea’s official newspaper.
1. “Supreme Leader’s Activity”
Last week, Kim Jong Un inspected the Samchon Catfish Farm and the Kumsanpho Fish Pickling Factory. In the article, Kim Jong Un’s position was reported as the “Supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army”. Whenever this title is used by North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun it means that the site being inspected is managed by the North Korean military. In this way, North Korea reports the title of Kim Jong Un according to whomever is the target of inspection. This is North Korea’s unique way of doing this, unlike how the title ‘President’ is used consistently when President Trump or President Moon Jae-in visits military units.
Unlike the South Korean military, North Korean soldiers are not provided with the basic means by the state. Burdened with the costs of sustaining themselves, there are many factories, farms and fisheries owned by the military to feed the one million soldiers. With some brigades with gold mines, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that if you are a commander in North Korea you have everything under the sun.
One thing to note about this week’s news are the people who accompanied Kim Jong Un during the field inspection visits. Despite the fact that it was a military unit that was being inspected, he was accompanied by party officials such as Choe Ryong Hae who is the Director of the WPK Organization Guidance Department (OGD) and Hwang Pyong So, the deputy director of the OGD.The fact that he was not accompanied by Kim Su Gil the Director of the Korean People’s Army General Political Department. but by Choe Ryong Hae and Hwang Pyong So reflects Kim Jong Un’s decision to strengthen control over the military through the OGD in the party.
Also the report that Kim Chang Son, the chief secretary of the ‘Third-storied Secretariat’ was part of the accompanying group shows that North Korea is slowly trying to unveil the ‘Third-storied Secretariat’ and establish it as the face of North Korea’s power structure.Recently, North Korea formalised the ‘Third-storied Secretariat’ as the ‘State Affairs Commission’– North Korea’s highest guiding organ. The ‘Third-storied Secretariat’ office has now been officially established as the main office of the central committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. I would not be so surprised to see that this was an abrupt decision made after the sudden interest in the ‘Third-storied Secretariat’ after my book ‘Cryptography from the Three-storied Secretariat’ was released.
During the days of the National Defense Commission (NDC) when Hyon Chol Hae and O Kuk Ryol still had positions, the NDC was in the same government building as the Central Committee. The ‘Third-storied Secretariat’ came after the NDC was replaced by the State Affairs Commission and the former-NDC was no longer part of the Central Committee’s governmental building.
I believe that the gradual publicising of North Korea’s power structures is part of Kim Jong Un’s policy to create the image of North Korea as a ‘normal state’ as it once was under his grandfather, Kim Il Sung.
It was reported that the Catfish Farm visited by Kim Jong Un had produced 3,000 tons, which is 10 times the production volume last year. Catfish are a fast-growing fish that consume a lot of feed, I suspect that it is not easy for the farm to import enough feed for 3,000 tons of catfish from China.
While looking around the Samchon Catfish Farm he stated that the “Party is fully relieved as the Samchon Fish Farm is taken charge of by the People’s Army” rather than the cabinet or a central institution, as a way of giving the impression to the people that the difficult economic situation in North Korea is the responsibility of the incapability of the Cabinet.
This week, the Rodong Sinmun published an editorial titled, “Let Us Wage Dynamic Drive for Increased Production in Attaining Goals of Five-Year Strategy,” on the front page of the August 9th edition. While it was long in length, there was no detail of what the five-year strategy actually is.
Despite telling the North Korean people that it should be dynamically driven in the implementation of the five year strategy, North Korea is not able to publicise any details. This is because it is burdened with the prospect that the plan may not be able to be implemented due to the sanctions against North Korea.
In fact, North Korea has not been able to disclose concrete numbers of its national economic development plan since the early 1990s and has failed to achieve its internal economic development goals.
On April 20th, Kim Jong Un promised at the Party Meeting to concentrate on economic development, but it seems that he is still worried that his authority will falter because he will not be able to achieve his five-year national economic development goals.
3. Inter-Korean and International
Despite the fact that Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho participated in the ARF in Singapore and engaged in many diplomatic activities with the US, South Korea as well as European and South East Asian countries, there was only a very short report that the North Korean delegation had arrived in Singapore.
There were no details about what exactly happened in the ASEAN Regional Forum for the North Korean people to read.
This week, North Korea showed a new attitude as it clarified the relationship between the end-of-war declaration and the denuclearization of North Korea.
Up until now, North Korea has only been stating its goal of adopting the end-of-war declaration by the end of the year, however, now it is gradually beginning to clarify its stance. North Korea is beginning to clarify its position ahead of the inter-Korean summit and US Secretary of State’s visit to Pyongyang as a way of taking an advantageous position during the negotiations.
Despite this, North Korea has kept its lips sealed on what effect the end-of-war declaration will have on North Korea’s denuclearization process.
While North Korea had told President Moon to not cross the line and interfere as North Korea and the US are steadily implementing the Singapore Agreement on July 20th, on August 10th the newspaper stated that the US should not coerce South Korea into “thorough implementations of sanctions on North Korea.”
Additionally it explicitly asked for UN Security Council Resolution 2356, 2371 and 2375 to be lifted now that North Korea had stopped its nuclear tests, rocket launches and dismantled its test sites.
It is the first time that North Korea has ever specifically mentioned UN Security Council resolutions and asked for them to be lifted despite not having even started the denculearization process.
When North Korea did not demand the retraction of Resolution 2379 or 2397 last September and December after North Korea’s 6th nuclear test, for a while it seemed that North Korea had hinted that it was not going to proceed with the dismantlement of its nuclear weapons and ICBMs.
Even with the increasing attacks on the US and South Korea, the fact that North Korea is reporting that President Trump is grateful for North Korea’s good actions, and that he is feeling good about the progress with North Korea in spite of inheriting a bad situation from the previous administration, shows that the situation is not as bad as it seems and that North Korea is still open to dialogue.