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5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee

The 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea was held over four days in Pyongyang from Saturday, December 28, to Tuesday, December 31, 2019.

Kim Jong Un appears to have attended each day of the event and state media said he presented a report on “the work of the Party Central Committee and the overall state affairs” over at least the first three days of the event.

The session represented at least two departures from recent custom. The first is the return to the multi-day plenary meetings popular during the rule of Kim Il Sung and the second is the announcement of the decisions from the plenary replaced the New Year Address that Kim had reintroduced in 2013.

Leadership Reshuffle

At the meeting a number of officials were appointed to new positions. Three people joined the Political Bureau of the Central Committee and six joined as alternate members. Additionally, four vice chairmen were elected, there were ten new department directors, and four new first vice-department directors, according to state media.

The most notable appointment was that of Ri Pyong Chol to a full member of the political bureau. He was previously first vice director of the Munitions Industry Department and his appointment was seen as an indication of the importance of weapons development.

Kim Jong Un speaks to the 5th plenary meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang in December 2019. (Photo: KCTV)
DPRK-US Relations

The meeting was most closely watched for its commentary on current DPRK-US relations. Talks between the two countries had stalled and North Korea had set an end-of-year deadline for the two sides to get diplomacy back on track.

The overall message from the meeting, according to 38 North contributor Robert Carlin, was that North Korea had given up hopes of a deal with the U.S. and a complete rethink of strategy was coming.

The message for them, I think, was essentially this: There’s going to be a complete strategic policy reorientation, “soup to nuts.” This is not a bluff. This is not a tactical move at the United States or at President Trump. There is no deal with the US to be had. That’s what Kim told his people.

— Robert Carlin, 38 North press call on the plenary meeting, January 1, 2020.

Analysts believe Kim is preparing to strengthen North Korea’s offensive forces and resume nuclear weapons development. In his plenary speech, Kim said the DPRK is no longer bound by a commitment to halt nuclear development and testing.

Kim also spoke of the need for the country to build up its expertise in science and technology. With no end in sight to sanctions, it appeared the state was preparing for a long time out in the cold and a shift to greater self-reliance and development.

Kim Jong Un speaks to the 5th plenary meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang in December 2019. (Photo: KCTV)
Absence of Pak Pong Ju

Pak Pong Ju, vice-chairman of the State Affairs Commission, was absent from state media reports covering the meeting, prompting speculation about his whereabouts. His absence was even more notable since he’d appeared just two days prior on an inspection tour of the Sangwon Cement Complex. He eventually appeared on the final day in a wheelchair for the group photo so ill-health appears to have been to blame.

Pak Pong Ju is seen in a wheelchair alongside Kim Jong Un at the 5th plenary meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang on December 31, 2019. (Photo: KCTV)
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