North Korea's first Workers' Party Congress in five years reflected the predicament of leader Kim Jong Un, now in his 10th year in power. In a bid to consolidate the regime, he assumed the post of general secretary, the same position held by his father and grandfather. He has also announced plans to increase the country's military capabilities and revive the economy through self-sufficiency measures, suggesting he is in danger of becoming reactionary and inward-looking.
Kim admitted that North Korea had not met the economic targets set at the last congress, saying the country "tremendously fell short of goals on almost every sector." North Korea faces a major structural issue in its shortage of production capacity. This has been compounded by the triple blow of international economic sanctions, flood damage and the novel coronavirus.
Regardless, the basis of the new five-year plan is self-sufficiency. It is clear that calls for an "80-day battle" to mobilize the entire population for economic activity will not lead to a fundamental solution.
North Korea has abundant mineral resources, and it is a key connection between maritime and continental nations. Should sanctions be lifted, it could become an attractive investment destination. If Kim is serious about feeling "ashamed before the people," he has no choice but to steadily denuclearize and rebuild the economy with support from the international community.
Considering this, Kim's stated foreign policy is completely unacceptable. He threatened to "subdue the U.S., our biggest enemy," and indicated that North Korea would work toward acquiring smaller and lighter nuclear weapons. This flies in the face of the results of the U.S.-North Korea summit, which promised the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
With U.S. President-elect Joe Biden set to take office on Jan. 20, Kim said the key to establishing a "new relationship" is for Washington to give up its "hostile policy" toward North Korea. There is no doubt that Kim's real intention is to meet with the new president. Apparently to attract attention, he also reiterated the goal of developing nuclear missiles capable of striking Washington, and the successive plans for developing new weapons.
Some fear that North Korea will test a new missile, or engage in some other military provocation that will fuel a sense of crisis. In such a case, the Japanese government must coordinate closely with its counterparts in the U.S. and South Korea. Controlling the threat posed by North Korea will require a strategic approach from all concerned nations that combines both pressure and dialogue.