Friday, June 25, 2021

North Korean Reshuffle Amid Rising Tensions

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In the backdrop of the growing tensions between North Korea and the US, especially after the Hanoi talks were cut-short without a statement, the first session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of North Korea at Pyongyang witnessed a big reshuffle of the country’s leadership. Many prominent North Korean leaders were replaced and others promoted to key positions. New posts have been created and the country’s budget for the year 2018 and projected budget for 2019 were approved. Newly elected deputies discussed about the election of the chairman of the State Affairs Commission (SAC), “of state leadership bodies” and “modifying and supplementing the Socialist Constitution.” The talks were focussed on the theme “state normalisation” to redefine the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea)’s political system.

Kim Jong-Un has been re-elected as the Chairman of SAC and as conferred with the new title of “Supreme representative of all the Korean people”. It signifies that he remains the paramount leader of the party, state and military. However, he remained absent from the session. The new makeover of the SAC looks similar to the South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC) or the South Korean presidential office with certain differences responsible for dealing with law, order and framing foreign policy and defence mechanism.

Pak Pong-ju who served as the pragmatic Premier of North Korea from 2003 until 2007, and again from 2013 until 2019, stepped down as head of the Cabinet. He was re-elected as Vice-Chairman of SPA. Kim Jae Ryong took charge as the new Premier of the Cabinet and President of Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) Presidium. At the fourth plenary meeting, Ryong was elected to the politburo and party’s Central Military Commission who had experience of serving as the chairman of Jagang Provincial Party Committee.

Choe Ryong Hae has become the President of the Presidium of the SPA. Choe has previously served as the member of the standing committee of the politburo and director of the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD) of the WPK Central Committee. Choe also received a new position as first vice-chairman of the SAC. First vice-minister of Foreign Affairs, Choe Son Hui, was elected to the SAC and has become a new member of the SPA’s foreign affairs committee. The SAC now, also includes Premier Kim Jae Rong, Kim Su Gil, Ri Man Gon, and No Kwang Chol.

Foreign minister Ri Yong Ho and Chairman of the SPA Foreign Affairs Committee Ri Su Yong, were re-elected to the SAC.

A key official, Ri Man Gon was elected to the politburo and the party’s Central Military Commission and designated as director of an unnamed Party Central Committee department and vice-chairman at the Central Committee. North Korea created a new ministry of ship building and appointed Kang Chol Gu as its minister.

The finance minister, Ki Kwang Ho, highlighted that North Korean government has allocated 47.6% of total spending to the development of the economy focusing on power generation, chemical and light industries. The North Korean defence budget was 15.8% of the total expenditure for the current year. Pyongyang plans to allocate 36.4% of its budget to provide a boost to education, public health, and sports activities.

All these significant changes within SPA are in the direction to make country’s economy self-sufficient and adhere to the idea of “Juche”, the type of socialism set forth by founding father Kim il-Sung, which stands for independence and self- reliance with new ways.

North Korea has said it will not give up its nuclear weapons as it remains a negotiating tool with United States. However, Kim Jong-Un will not adhere to a ‘phase-by phase’ approach to nuclear negotiations with US until there is a comprehensive deal between North Korea and the US leading to a fair solution. Kim said that he would wait till ‘the end of this year’ for Washington to be more flexible in its approach.

India is of the firm view that all parties should engage proactively to reach an amicable solution.

Script: Rachit Bharadwaj, Research Analyst, JNU

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