In early December, it was reported that the Central Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea, the highest organ in the party, would hold a plenary meeting before the end of the year. Now post-Christmas, this meeting has yet to apparate. During the announcement, the article stated that the officials in the committee would discuss issues related to the changed situation “at home and abroad.”.
The potential for a major policy shift is palpable and would align with previous statements made by Marshal Kim Jong Un in recent months in which he stipulated that the US administration would have until the years-end to change their ‘Anti-DPRK Hostile Policy’. With little change on this front, a plenary meeting this late in the year could be a sign that the leadership in the DPRK intends to refocus on to national defence once again.
The last CC plenum was held in April 2019
What is the Central Committee?
The Central Committee of the WPK is the highest organ within the party with the exception of the Worker’s Party Congress which consists of every party member who, in turn, appoint members to the various party institutions and committees. The Central Committee (CC) oversees every other committee with the exception of the Central Auditing Commission which is overseen by the congress directly. The CC is made up of 170 full time members and 148 alternate members (approx.). The current CC is the 7th in the history of the party. It was elected in 2016 during the 7th Congress of the Worker’s Party of Korea.
The CC is the highest policy making organ within the party and holds authority over the other branches of the party, namely, the Political Bureau, the Executive Policy Bureau, the Central Military Commission, Rodong Sinmun, the Control Commission and the Party History Institute. The CC is the core of the party and is the defacto policy-making organ of the party – therefore, a plenary meeting (the 5th since the 2016 congress) so late in the year between these powerful officials has the potential to trigger a dramatic change in policy.
The plenary meeting was approved on the 2nd of December 2019 by the Presidium of the Policial Bureau, chaired by Kim Jong Un.
Central Committee (April 2019) (KCNA)
It was reported on the 22nd of December that a meeting had been held the day prior by the Central Military Commission of the WPK (CMC). According to the report from Rodong Sinmun:
“Also discussed were important issues for decisive improvement of the overall national defence and core matters for the sustained and accelerated development of military capability for self-defence.”
CMC meeting reported by Rodong Sinmun on the 22nd of December (KCNA)
Many expected the CC plenary meeting to occur in the days following the CMC meeting, as would be usual. However, nothing has occurred as of yet. There are a series of potential reasons why the plenary meeting may be delayed:
As the international community has been waiting for the result from the ‘end of year deadline’ which is fast approaching, it may be in the interest of Pyongyang to wait until the last moment to announce any new strategic line. The Marshal Kim Jong Un regularly gives a New Year’s Address in which the main policy priorities for the coming year are announced and therefore holding the plenary meeting shortly before the speech would heighten the impact of any measures.
Decisions yet to be made
There is a chance that there are some still holding out hope for a policy shift from the US administration as tensions begin to increase. Tentative decisions may have been made in the background, although it may be the CC’s intention to hold any new announcements back right until the 11th hour in order to put pressure on Washington right up until the 31st.
It is no secret that both China and Russia are uneasy about a return to missile and nuclear weapons testing, let alone the US. Any backdoor communications between the DPRK and any of these countries could still be ongoing, the result of which could have an impact on what is decided during the plenum. China and Russia are the main allies of Pyongyang and so their views on the situation will likely carry a lot of weight during the decision making process.
Whatever is decided by the plenary meeting will have far reaching results for the international community. The previous two years of diplomacy have seen no tangible results for Pyongyang who seems to have been becoming increasingly frustrated at the sanctions remaining in place and the perceived lack of concessions from the US. This frustration was highlighted in Stockholm this year when the DPRK side accused the US of returning to the table with the same proposal.
Should the DPRK return to a harsher diplomatic line against the US, we could potentially see a return to missile testing which includes ICBMs and IRBMs.