N Korea readies for party congress, nuclear test fears persist
Seoul : North Korea readied today to kick off its most important ruling party gathering for nearly 40 years, amid persistent concerns of a nuclear test, despite no clear signs of an imminent detonation.
Leader Kim Jong-Un is expected to deliver a keynote address at the opening of tomorrow’s party congress which will be minutely scrutinised for suggestions of a significant policy shift or personnel changes in the nuclear-armed nation’s governing elite.
The 33-year-old Kim was not even born when the last congress was held in 1980 to crown his father, Kim Jong-Il, as the heir apparent to his grandfather and the North’s founding leader Kim Il-Sung.
While the agenda — and even the duration — of the event is still unknown, its main objective is widely seen as cementing Kim Jong-Un’s status as supreme leader and legitimate inheritor of the Kim family’s dynastic rule.
The congress is also expected to confirm, as party doctrine, Kim’s “byungjin” policy of pursuing nuclear weapons in tandem with economic development.
Since Kim took power after the death of his father in late
2011, North Korea has carried out two nuclear tests and two successful space rocket launches that were widely seen as disguised ballistic missile tests.
Even as the international community responded with condemnation and sanctions, Kim kept the throttle opened up on the North’s single-minded drive towards a credible nuclear deterrent with additional missile and technical tests.
There has been widespread speculation that the congress would be preceded by another nuclear test in a gesture of strength and defiance that would allow Kim to claim genuine nuclear power status in his speech.
In an analysis of the most recent satellite pictures of the North’s main nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University today said there was no clear evidence, one way or the other, of whether an underground detonation was imminent.
The images dated May 2 showed only a “very low level of activity,” the institute said on its closely followed 38North website.