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.
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.
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.
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.
State Media Coverage
- KCNA: First-Day Session of 5th Plenary Meeting of 7th C.C., WPK Held (December 29, 2019)
- KCNA: Second-Day Session of 5th Plenary Meeting of 7th C.C., WPK Held (December 30, 2019)
- KCNA: Third-Day Session of 5th Plenary Meeting of 7th C.C., WPK Held (December 31, 2019)
- KCNA: Report on 5th Plenary Meeting of 7th C.C., WPK (January 1, 2020)
State TV Coverage
News Coverage & Analysis
- 38 North Press Call Transcript: Kim Jong Un’s 2020 New Year’s Address: No, Kim Jong Un Is Not Taking a Wait and See Approach
- NK News: North Korea’s New Year’s Eve party plenum reveals major leadership reshuffle
- Washington Post: North Korea’s Kim threatens to resume nuclear, long-range missile tests
- The Guardian: Kim Jong-un signals North Korea could resume nuclear missile tests
- New York Times: North Korea Is No Longer Bound by Nuclear Test Moratorium, Kim Says
- Hankyoreh: Kim Jong-un message of self-reliance and “foiling” sanctions during last party meeting of 2019