PYONGYANG (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday hailed the country’s recent nuclear test and launch of a satellite into space, as he opened the first congress of the country’s ruling Workers’ Party in 36 years.
Wearing a dark western-style suit and grey tie, the 33-year-old was flanked by his top military aide and the titular head of state in a massive hall packed with military and party delegates, according to footage on North Korean state television aired late on Friday.
During the congress, Kim is expected to further consolidate his control over a country that has grown increasingly isolated over its pursuit of nuclear weapons, including its fourth nuclear test in January, which led to U.N. resolutions in March tightening sanctions.
“In this year of the seventh party congress, the military and the people accomplished the great success in the first hydrogen bomb test and the launch of an earth observation satellite, Kwangmyongsong-4, to brilliantly illuminate the prowess of Juche Joson,” he said, referring to the North’s home-grown founding ideology combining Marxism and extreme nationalism.
“Unprecedented results have been accomplished.”
Foreign analysts expect the third-generation leader of the Kim dynasty to formally adopt his “Byongjin” policy of simultaneously pursuing nuclear weapons and economic development.
“Kim is after catching two rabbits, a nuclear arsenal and economic development, and he’s likely going to declare the country is a nuclear weapons state, so that’s one rabbit,” said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
“He might also lay out a five-year or seven-year blueprint for the development of the people’s economy,” Yang said.
Foreign journalists invited to cover the event were not permitted inside the April 25 House of Culture, the imposing stone structure draped in red party flags where the congress is expected to run for several days.
Kim has aggressively pursued nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. The February satellite launch was criticized internationally as a long-range missile test in disguise.
Giant neighbor China, the North’s lone major ally, backed the U.N. resolutions, as it grew frustrated over the nuclear tests.
CHINA’S WORD OF ADVICE
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, asked about the congress at a daily briefing in Beijing, said North Korea was at an important stage in its national development.
“We also hope North Korea can listen to the voice of the international community, and jointly maintain northeast Asia’s lasting peace and stability,” Hong said.
Thousands of delegates from around North Korea had been expected to attend the first congress to be held since 1980, before the 33-year-old Kim was born. Security guards in suits and ties surrounded the venue on Friday.
The Byongjin policy follows Kim’s father’s Songun, or “military first” policy, and his grandfather’s Juche ideology.
State radio said the Workers’ Party congress would “unveil the brilliant blueprint to bring forward the final victory of our revolution”, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
North Korean state media has trumpeted a 70-day campaign of intensified productivity in the run-up to the congress, and Pyongyang has been spruced up for the event.
"Miraculous results were produced," KCNA said, touting production in the industrial sector that achieved 144 percent of the target and electricity generation 110 percent, although the actual targets were not given.
Under Kim Jong Un, an informal market economy has been allowed to grow, although it has not been officially adopted as government policy.
However, more taxis and private cars on the streets, more goods in shops and more buildings under construction attest to growing prosperity and consumption among Pyongyang residents.
South Korea has been on alert in anticipation that the North could conduct a fifth nuclear test to coincide with the congress. North and South Korea are still technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty.
North Korea's founding leader, Kim Il Sung, spoke for more than five hours at the last party congress. Kim Jong Il, who almost never spoke in public, did not hold a party congress.
(Additional reporting by Jack Kim, Jee Heun Kahng and Dagyum Ji in SEOUL and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)