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Will Kim Jong Un turn the clock back?

Posted January. 12, 2021 07:35,   

Updated January. 12, 2021 07:35


Kim Jong Un was elevated from chairman to general secretary on Sunday during the 8th Congress of the North Korean Workers’ Party. The title, which was held by his late father Kim Jong Il, was not given to anyone in a symbolic gesture to honor the contributions made by his father. A congress statement Kim “has gloriously realized the historic mission to complete the country's nuclear build-up plan.” It is reported that a military parade was held on Monday midnight to celebrate the “joyful occasion.”

Kim Jong Un’s promotion may be a sign of his confidence that his power in the country has grown to match what his father used to enjoy. The North Korean leader may even give himself a title held by his late grandfather Kim Il Sung at the upcoming Supreme People's Assembly, which is scheduled for this month. The new titles would not change anything in a country where the leader already has control over the party and the nation. However, the regime witnessed more concentration of power every time a new title was given to its leader during the 70-year rule of the Kim family.

Ironically, it is for this reason that Kim’s promotion can also be read as a sign of desperation. He needs more concentration of power to overcome the challenges facing him today. Sanctions, floods and COVID-19 have cornered North Korea, but “crying for empathy” would not work anymore. The only card he has been left with is to rely on the authority of his father and grandfather to repress the people.

All Kim has is nuclear weapons. By piggybacking on the power of nuclear weapons in an attempt to idolize its leader, North Korea is regressing. It now has no option but to use the power it gained through illusion, which will translate into more repression, control and surveillance.

The only way out is to give up on nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, Kim is using nuclear weapons to threaten the United States and tame South Korea. Bringing Kim Yong Chol back to the frontline as vice chairman for South Korean affairs must be part of the plan to resume its diplomatic strategies of bluffing and conceit. However, it is unlikely that these strategies would work again. Without denuclearization, North Korea will end up either exploding from the inside or withering over time.