PYONGYANG, North Korea — Kim Jong Un, the third generation of North Korea’s ruling dynasty, boasted “unprecedented accomplishments” in nuclear and missile tests this year, as he convened Friday the first congress of the country’s Workers’ Party in 36 years.
The congress, which opened in Pyongyang, was a extravagant spectacle that lauded Kim’s leadership, showing huge pictures of the 33-year-old leader in a variety of military settings and featuring multiple rounds of choreographed cheering.
His comments also represented another slap at the West and its allies amid growing international alarm over the North’s attempts at military and nuclear expansion.
This is the first time since that North Korea’s one and only party has called a congress. The event is widely believed to be the driver behind North Korea’s various provocations since the start of the year, from its January nuclear test and its February long-range ballistic missile launch, to its various threats to blow up Seoul, New York and Washington.
But details about the congress have been scarce — no information has been released about how long the congress will last, who has been invited or what will be discussed.
A Washington Post reporting team was among the 130-odd foreign journalists allowed to travel to Pyongyang to cover the event, but was not permitted to enter the building where the congress was being held Friday.
Instead, journalists were permitted only to stand some 300 yards from the building, on the other side of a major intersection.
Asked why foreign media was not allowed into the event, The Post’s government-appointed minders said they didn’t know. They were also unable to confirm whether the congress had actually begun.
North Korea has placed a huge degree of importance on the congress, which has previously been a forum to show the ruling party as strong, and has occasionally been used as a vehicle for major announcements. Kim Il Sung, the “eternal president” of North Korea and the grandfather of the current leader, used the 1980 congress to unveil his son, Kim Jong Il, as his successor.
Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, Kim Jong Un has elevated the status of the Workers’ Party and has effectively moved away from the “military first” policy promoted by his father by announcing a “simultaneous push” towards both nuclear and economic development.
Analysts say that by calling the congress, Kim Jong Un is continuing this pattern of increasing the stature of the party, at the same time as bolstering his claim on the leadership. North Korea is home to the world’s only communist dynasty and Kim Jong Un was not even 30 when he became its third generation leader.
Korean culture is Confucian and places a premium on age and seniority, but Kim is a good half-century younger than some of his advisers. Nor was the regime able to lay the kind of groundwork for the current leader as it did for Kim Jong Il.
Kim Jong Il was in the public eye, moving through a series of official positions, for more than two decades before he took over the reins after Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994. But there was barely more than a year between the announcement of Kim Jong Un as successor, and his accession to the North Korean throne.
As a result, few analysts were expecting bold initiatives to be unveiled at this congress, given the difficulty the Kim regime has had making good on many of its promises. Instead, they were expecting pronouncements about the strength of the party.
The authorities here had instituted a “70-day speed battle” to prepare for the congress, requiring all citizens to work from 5:30 a.m. until well after dark, seven days a week, painting buildings, paving roads and planting gardens. Streets have been decorated with banners and red Workers’ Party flags, and thousands of people have been practicing for parades, although it’s not clear when they will take place.