January 16, 2023
SEOUL – Eyes are riveted on whether North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will convey another key message on the country’s nuclear buildup and hard-line foreign policy at a parliamentary meeting scheduled to be held this week. But experts have said the focus of the meeting is to discuss key domestic issues, including annual economic plans and the state budget, as well as preparations for nationwide events marking key anniversaries this year.
North Korea’s legislative body, the Supreme People’s Assembly, will meet Tuesday in Pyongyang, in accordance with the decision made by the SPA Standing Committee in December last year.
The upcoming eighth session of the 14th SPA comes around three weeks after the six-day year-end party plenary session that wrapped up on Dec. 31. During the plenum, Kim urged the country to exponentially increase its nuclear arsenal and mass-produce tactical nuclear weapons able to strike within South Korean territory, labeling the South as its “undoubted enemy.”
“We are keeping a close tab on whether Chairman Kim Jong-un attends, given that he was previously present at the seventh session of the Supreme People’s Assembly and delivered a policy speech,” Lee Hyo-jung, deputy spokesperson of South Korea’s Unification Ministry, told a regular press briefing Friday.
Kim – who is not a deputy of the SPA – did not attend all the meetings of the legislative body. But he has expressed his country’s stance on military and nuclear buildup as well as foreign policy issues by delivering policy speeches three times on the occasion of SPA sessions since 2019.
Kim, for instance, called on the US to change its calculus for nuclear negotiations, urging his country to prepare for a long-term confrontation with the US in April 2019 in the aftermath of the breakdown of the Hanoi summit in Vietnam. In September 2021, Kim openly dismissed a US proposal to hold talks without preconditions.
Kim also publicly underscored that his country will never give up its nuclear weapons, and therefore, “there will be absolutely no denuclearization first and no negotiation to that end” in his policy speech in September 2022.
But Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said “there is a low chance” of Kim delivering a speech at the upcoming parliamentary meeting.
“As Chairman Kim Jong-un already expressed the country’s stance on political, economic, social, military and foreign policy issues at the party plenum, Kim will not deliver another speech overlapping with the previous one,” Yang told The Korea Herald, referring to the plenum that was held from Dec. 26 to 31 last year.
Under the Kim Jong-un regime, the main function of North Korea’s SPA is to confirm, elaborate or enact budget decisions, new domestic political and economic policies, constitutional amendments and organizational and personal matters decided at a party meeting.
“Kim Jong-un’s presence and whether he makes a speech is an interesting variable, but it’s not really something where we should expect any real changes of policy on the security or economic front especially given the report of the (Workers’ Party of Korea) plenary meeting at the start of the year,” Peter Ward, a senior researcher at Kookmin University, told The Korea Herald.
North Korean state media in December said the upcoming SPA session would focus on dealing with domestic issues, including the outcome of work of the Cabinet for the last year, its tasks for this year, as well as the execution of the state budget for the last year and the proposed state budget for this year.
“The budget is important because it will give us a sense of last year’s officially admitted fiscal situation — obviously far from the whole story, but still interesting for what it says about the picture they believe they can sell to their people. We will see whether they still admit that the economic situation remains difficult, and whether tax receipts and spending growth have been stagnant,” Ward said.
“Further, we shall see how they plan to respond to the food crisis going forward, and whether they have any plans for external policy/foreign economic relations that might indicate a loosening of the border shutdown policy.”
Other agenda topics for the upcoming meeting include the “adoption of the law on the protection of the cultured Pyongyang dialect, the issue of the work of the Central Public Prosecutors Office and an organizational matter,” North Korean state media reported in December.
“North Korea will also concentrate on discussing issues related to splendidly celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Victory Day (in the Korean War) and the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the DPRK,” Yang said, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
North Korea has labeled the July 27 anniversary of when the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed as the “Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War.”
North Korea is also set to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army on Feb. 8 with a possible military parade.
“We also cannot rule out the possibility of North Korea adopting a resolution that denounces South Korea and the US and endorses the policy of reinforcing nuclear forces at the upcoming meeting,” Yang added.