The 7th North Korean Workers’ Party (WPK) Congress –the first event of its kind in 36 years– began and ended with the flair for the dramatic we have come to expect from the reclusive communist state. Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un dialed up the party rhetoric and called on all workers to undertake 70 days of preparation to ensure that production numbers exceeded targets and every factory and public space was rigorously cleaned. Likewise, the congress ended with Pyongyang-style pomp and ceremony. A mass parade showcased precision military formation marching and the people’s choreographed exuberance for their dear leader. However, the substance of what occurred amidst the fanfare left many experts wondering what all the fuss was about.
Following Kim’s new promotion to party chairman, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent only a cursory congratulatory note to the North Korean leader. Experts noted that the letter did not address Kim as “comrade,” a title extended in previous correspondence. While this may be connected to Beijing’s disapproval of Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test and a ballistic missile launch, some experts believe it is unlikely to be a sign of lasting damage to the alliance. Dr. Yun Sun of the Stimson Center told the Cipher Brief that North Korea is a “piece in the great game” between China and the U.S. and, in that context, its value as an ally is too important.
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