Kim Jong-un oversees giant rally in Pyongyang to end congress

Congress linked expansion of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal to economic growth

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, freshly elevated to chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party, marked the conclusion of a rare congress with a mass rally and parade on Tuesday in Pyongyang’s main ceremonial square.

During the four-day congress, North Korea reiterated its policy of "byeongjin", linking the expansion of its nuclear arsenal and growth in its economy. The 33-year-old leader pledged that he would only use its atomic weapons if North Korea was itself threatened with nuclear weapons.

While its nuclear ambitions have been realised at a rate that has frightened the North's neighbours, its efforts to grow the economy have been less successful. According to data from South Korea, North Korea's gross domestic product only overtook its 1989 peak in 2012, after the famine and economic crisis of the early 1990s.

“Under the authorisation of Workers’ Party chairman Kim Jong Un, the central committee sends the warmest greetings to the people and soldiers who concluded the 70-day battle with the greatest of victory and glorified the congress as an auspicious event,” Kim Yong-nam, the titular head of state, told the rally under overcast skies in Kim Il-sung Square.


North Korea had been running a 70-day campaign of accelerated productivity in the run-up to the congress, including a spring clean for the capital. This was the first congress since October 1980, although two smaller congresses in September 2010 and April 2012 installed Kim Jong-un as top military and party leader.

While the domestic focus was on the ruling party, internationally the congress was being watched for what clues it offered about the North’s nuclear plans and the outlook for regional stability.

North Korea concluded its fourth nuclear test in January and staged a series of ballistic missile launches early this year.

Letter from China

At the conclusion of congress President Xi Jinping of


, with whom relations have been rocky of late, sent a letter of “fervent” congratulations letter to his ideological ally.

Although China has backed UN sanctions over the North's missile programme and is said to be angry at Pyongyang for not taking seriously its urgings to slow its nuclear ambitions, investment from China is a key factor in keeping the North's economy afloat and the two have described themselves as being "as close as lips and teeth".

“China stands ready to work with the DPRK to promote the constant development of bilateral relations for the benefit of the two countries and the two peoples, and to make positive contributions to safeguarding peace, stability and development in the region,” Mr Xi said in the statement.

Xinhua attributed the letter to Mr Xi in his role as general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, underlining their common ideological heritage.

Using the official title of North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Mr Xi “hoped that the DPRK people will achieve new accomplishments in the cause of building socialism under the leadership of the WPK headed by Kim.”

Hwang Jae-ho, an international politics professor at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, told the Yonhap news agency that China felt the need to improve ties with the North.

"China might have recognised the strategic value of the North as its rival the US, South Korea and Japan are working closely together to build stronger defence relations," he said.

A team of BBC journalists, including Irish producer Maria Byrne, was expelled from the congress for “disrespectful” reporting.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing