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Kim Jong Un takes new title, vows to boost nuclear program

January 11, 2021

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has taken the title of Workers' Party general secretary in a move apparently aimed at consolidating his grip on power. He also promised to build more sophisticated nuclear weapons.

 A man watches a TV screen showing a footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
Kim already holds many titles, but it's thought the new one may be aimed at bolstering his positionImage: Lee Jin-man/AP Photo/picture alliance

The ruling Workers' Party's 8th congress awarded Kim his new title after a vote on Sunday that followed a slight revision of the rules, according to North Korean media.

The appointment to general secretary is a largely symbolic one as Kim had already been the top official within the party as chairman. The move appears aimed at bolstering his authority amid some tough economic challenges.

Kim's election to the new post reflected the "unanimous will and desire" of all party members, citizens, and members of the People's Army, the party said.

"All the delegates expressed full support with stormy applause in great excitement," said the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

During the meeting, the first of its kind since 2016, Kim also promised to build more sophisticated nuclear weapons. A congress statement carried by the KCNA said Kim had "gloriously realized the historic mission to complete the country's nuclear build-up plan.''

It's thought that the promises were aimed at pressuring President-elect Joe Biden to resume diplomacy and make concessions to North Korea after he takes office next week. It is unclear whether Biden, who has criticized Kim's much-publicized summits with President Donald Trump, will do so.

Earlier this month, Kim had promised to place the state defense capabilities on a much higher level without it being clear whether he meant the nuclear program.

Promise of new economic dawn

At the congress in the capital, Pyongyang, Kim has disclosed economic development goals and reshuffled party officials.

He admitted that a previous five-year economic development plan had failed, but revealed a new economic plan focusing on building a stronger, more self-reliant economy that would reduce dependence on imports.

However, observers have said they doubt whether such moves can offer any substantial solutions to the difficulties faced by North Korea. These include a self-imposed coronavirus isolation and crippling US-led international sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Some foreign experts questioned Kim Jong Un's grip on power when he inherited the country's leadership upon his father's death in late 2011. However, Kim, who turned 37 on Friday, has gradually consolidated his position through high-profile executions and purges that have removed his potential rivals.

After assuming power, Kim was quickly proclaimed supreme leader of the North Korean military, the party, and the state.

Kim's sister, Kim Yo Jong, was missing from a new list of the ruling Workers' Party's powerful politburo, prompting questions about her status after having assumed considerable influence in recent years. But Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul, told the Reuters news agency that it was too early to read too much into this, as it was also possible she had taken up other important roles.

rc/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)