The 8th Congress of the Worker's Party of Korea (2)

The 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was held in Pyongyang from 5 to 12 January 2021. This paper provides an overview of the structural and personnel changes that resulted from the 8th Congress and analyses their implications for the leadership’s governance style in the coming years.

Key Takeaways

  • Structural and personnel changes further solidified Kim Jong Un's sole governing authority and arguably completed the transition period following his ascent to leadership in 2011.

  • Revisions to the rules of the Workers' Party of Korea (hereafter "WPK" or "the Party") amended both ideological and organizational aspects of the party's governance. (a) The "people-first" principle was formalized as the basic political mode under socialism, presumably replacing the Kim Jong Il era's Songun politics. (b) The re-establishment of the Secretariat of the WPK Central Committee, replacing the Executive Policy Bureau, allowed for the elevated titular designation of Kim Jong Un as General Secretary, akin to Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung.

  • Officials who are considered closest to and most trusted by Kim Jong Un were promoted in the Central Committee, particularly Jo Yong Won, Ri Pyong Chol and Kim Tok Hun.

  • The new Political Bureau and Secretariat composition suggests that the DPRK's leadership and the WPK will primarily focus on issues related to domestic governance in the near future. This is in line with the dominant focus on the economy and military development goals in Kim Jong Un's report to the 8th WPK Congress.

Revision of the WPK Rules

The WPK Rules set forth the basic rules for structure and membership of the WPK, as well as the principles under which the Central Committee of the Party operates. They also guide all political institutions overseeing political, economic and military affairs of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). For 30 years, there were no amendments to the Rules. This changed in 2010: since 2010, the Rules have been amended at every WPK Congress and Conference. [1]

In state affairs, the WPK Rules have a higher standing than the country's constitution. [2] This is because of the centralised role of the Party in state governance, which was further strengthened by the revisions in 2010. As such, revisions can provide important indications not just of changes in the Party's structure and leadership, but also of major changes in principles of governance and the ideological framework guiding the WPK's work. The following table summarizes key changes to the WPK rules since 2010.

Table 1. Overview of revisionsto the WPK Rules, 2010-2021

3rd WPK Conference

WPK Conferences

WPK Conferences-part 3

The successive revisions of the WPK Rules since 2010 can be viewed primarily as assisting smooth leadership succession from Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un, as well as a doubling down on Party centralism and the sole hereditary leadership system that the former supports. The 2021 revisions of the WPK Rules are a continuation of this process. [11]

In addition, the amendments involve two major revisions to the ideological framework in the preface to the Rules. The first of these revisions was to state that "the people-first politics [serves] as the basic political mode under socialism in reflection of the requirements of the developing revolution." [12] Amidst the current domestic difficulties due to the impact of sanctions, the global pandemic and major natural disasters, the "people-first" principle has been one of the major themes in national propaganda and Kim Jong Un's stated efforts to do more for the common people. First articulated publicly in 2013, 13 this year's revision of the Rules further formalized the principle and appeared to replace the Songun politics of the Kim Jong Il era as the Party's "basic political mode under socialism". The newer ideological principle is now more firmly associated with the Kim Jong Un era, which further supports the full transition of Kim Jong Un to a leader of the same measure as his predecessors.

The second revision was to that part of the preface referring to "tasks of national reunification", apparently to highlight the role of "powerful defence capabilities [which] fundamentally contain military threats and safeguard the stability and peaceful environment of the Korean Peninsula." [14] It is possible that expressions along the lines of wanting to achieve national liberation and independence of the entire peninsula are subordinated to more accurately reflect the enduring state of separation between North and South Korea and a military standoff relationship.

Also notable are the extensive changes to the "chapters and articles defining the [WPK's] working rules of conduct, mode of activities and norms," [15] in particular, the return to a Secretariat system, a further empowered Political Bureau and a more streamlined Central Committee structure following the integration of the Inspection Commission into the Central Auditing Commission.

Overview of Changesto the WPK Structure

Figure 1. Overview of Changesto the WPK Structure, 2016-2021

The reintroduction of the Secretariat also allowed for a change in title for Kim Jong Un. All three of the DPRK's leaders have held variants of a "Secretary" title to describe their top leadership position in the Party. Both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were bestowed the title of "eternal General Secretary". Until 2016, Kim Jong Un was referred to as First Secretary of the WPK. Revisions to the WPK Rules in 2016 had the effect of changing his title from First Secretary to Chairman of the WPK. The 2021 revisions mark a return to the titular system that existed up until 2016 (i.e. "General Secretary"). Reversion to the previously used title suggests an intention to allow for a dignified process through which Kim Jong Un was able to demonstrate leadership that was deserving of the same or similar titular honour as the one bestowed on his father and grandfather, further solidifying Kim Jong Un's sole governing authority.

Personnel Changes in the WPK Central Committee

Personnel changes in the WPK during the 8th Congress were similarly extensive. Around 41% of the Political Bureau was replaced, with 12 entirely new members. The number of individuals with an economic profile has increased from four to seven, while the number for those with a military profile has slightly decreased from seven to six. The possibly elevated role of economic officials amidst severe strains to the DPRK's economy would not be surprising. Noteworthy among the changes is the omission of Pak Pong Ju (possibly due to retirement given that he is in his early 80s) and the promotion to the Presidium of the Political Bureau of trusted advisor Jo Yong Won who has accompanied Kim Jong Un frequently in recent times.

New composition of the WPK Central Committees Political Bureau

Figure 2. New composition of the WPK Central Committee's Political Bureau. Source: Rodong Sinmun

Table 2. Overview of additional Presidium members

Overview of additional Presidium members

New promotions, particularly those of Jo Yong Won, Ri Pyong Chol and Kim Tok Hun, reflect their already established status as among those closest to and most trusted by Kim Jong Un, as suggested by the number of times these officials have accompanied him to public activities in the past two years.

WPK officials who have accompanied Kim Jong Un most frequently

Figure 3. WPK officials who have accompanied Kim Jong Un most frequently. Source: KCNA, Ministry of Unification

The composition of the Secretariat (formerly the Executive Policy Bureau), which is responsible for overseeing implementation of the policies decided by the Political Bureau, suggests a more focused approach to providing operational guidance following the structural revision. Membership was reduced from ten to seven; their respective positions and backgrounds suggest a clear division of responsibilities and a focus on (1) internal discipline, (2) military and science, and (3) the economy.

Table 3. Overview of Secretariat members

Overview of Secretariat members

Prominent figures who have previously been considered as key foreign and security policy officials appear to have been mostly omitted in the reshuffle. The information released so far, for example, suggests that no member has been selected for the Secretariat who is in charge of international affairs, as previously was the case. It also remains unclear what to make of Kim Yo Jong’s nominal title, as well as her formal and informal roles and status in the leadership, though she has been omitted in the reshuffle this round. [17] Also notable is the apparent demotion of Choe Son Hui, First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, from Member to Alternate Member of the WPK Central Committee. Kim Yong Chol has kept his position as Member of the Political Bureau and Foreign Minister Ri Son Kwon has also kept his position as Alternate Member. Only Ri Pyong Chol stands out with the promotion to the Presidium of the Political Bureau and continued membership in the Secretariat. This appears to be in line with the newly stated ambitious development goals for the country’s nuclear weapons programme and does not stand in contradiction to a relative shift towards primarily domestic affairs in terms of personnel appointments. [18]

Conclusion

The structural and personnel changes in the WPK that resulted from the 8th Congress appear to have been intended to further solidify Kim Jong Un's sole governing authority and arguably completed the transition period following his ascent to leadership in 2011. Revisions to the WPK Rules had the effect of establishing ideological nuances unique to the Kim Jong Un era; the return to the Secretariat system and the election of Kim Jong Un as General Secretary support this hypothesis. The leadership also promoted officials who are considered closest to and most trusted by Kim Jong Un. The new Political Bureau and Secretariat composition further suggests that a deliberate focus is being placed on governance over primarily domestic affairs, which is in line with the dominant focus on the economy and military development goals in Kim Jong Un's report to the 8th WPK Congress.

Annex: Complete WPK Leadership Following the 8th Congress

Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee

Kim Jong Un

Choe Ryong Hae, Ri Pyong Chol, Kim Tok Hun, Jo Yong Won

Members ofthe Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee

Kim Jong Un

Choe Ryong Hae, Ri Pyong Chol, Kim Tok Hun, Jo Yong Won, Pak Thae Song, Pak Jong Chon, Jong Sang Hak, Ri Il Hwan, Kim Tu Il, Choe Sang Gon, Kim Jae Ryong, O Il Jong, Kim Yong Chol, O Su Yong, Kwon Yong Jin, Kim Jong Gwan, Jong Kyong Thaek, Ri Yong Gil

Alternate members ofthe Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee

Pak Thae Dok, Pak Myong Sun, Ho Chol Man, Ri Chol Man, Kim Hyong Sik, Thae Hyong Chol, Kim Yong Hwan, Pak Jong Gun, Yang Sung Ho, Jon Hyon Chol, Ri Son Kwon

Secretariat of the Party Central Committee

General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea: Kim Jong Un

Secretaries of the Party Central Committee: Jo Yong Won, Pak Thae Song, Ri Pyong Chol, Jong Sang Hak, Ri Il Hwan, Kim Tu Il, Choe Sang Gon

Party Central Military Commission

Chairman: Kim Jong Un

Vice-chairman: Ri Pyong Chol

Members: Jo Yong Won, O Il Jong, Kim Jo Guk, Kang Sun Nam, O Su Yong, Pak Jong Chon, Kwon Yong Jin, Kim Jong Gwan, Jong Kyong Thaek, Ri Yong Gil, Rim Kwang Il

Party Central Auditing Commission

Chairman: Jong Sang Hak

Vice-Chairmen: Pak Thae Dok, Ri Hi Yong

Members: Ri Kyong Chol, Pak Kwang Sik, Pak Kwang Ung, Jon Thae Su, Jong In Chol, Kim Song Chol, Jang Ki Ho, Kang Yun Sok, U Sang Chol, Jang Kwang Bong, Kim Kwang Chol, O Tong Il

Department Directors of the Party Central Committee

Kim Jae Ryong, O Il Jong, Pak Thae Dok, Kim Song Nam, Ho Chol Man, Kim Hyong Sik, Pak Myong Sun, Ri Chol Man, Ri Tu Song, Kang Sun Nam, Kim Yong Chol, Kim Se Bok, Pak Jong Nam, Choe Hwi, Kim Yong Su

Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the Party Central Committee

Editor-in-chief Pak Yong Min [19]

Members and alternate members of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) elected at the 8th WPK Congress: [20]

Members of the WPK Central Committee

Kim Jong Un, Choe Ryong Hae, Ri Pyong Chol, Kim Tok Hun, Kim Jae Ryong, Ri Il Hwan, Choe Hwi, Pak Thae Dok, Kim Yong Chol, Ho Chol Man, Kim Hyong Sik, Pak Myong Sun, Choe Sang Gon, O Il Jong, Kim Yong Su, Sin Ryong Man, Jon Hyon Chol, Jo Yong Won, Ri Hi Yong, Pak Thae Song, Kim Yo Jong, Ri Yong Sik, Kim Song Nam, Hong Sung Mu, Jang Kwang Myong, Choe Tong Myong, Jong Sang Hak, Pak Song Chol, Ri Kyong Chol, An Kum Chol, Hyon Song Wol, Kim Pyong Ho, Jang Ryong Sik, Kim Jo Guk, Pak Kwang Sik, Kim Song Gi, Pak Kwang Ung, Kim Jong Sik, Jo Yong Chol, Kim Se Bok, Pak Jong Nam, Kim Song Chol, Jong In Chol, Jon Thae Su, Pak Yong Min, Ma Jong Son, Thae Hyong Chol, Ko Kil Son, O Tong Il, Yang Sung Ho, O Su Yong, Kim Yong Hwan, Kim Tu Il, Ri Jae Nam, Mun Kyong Dok, Ri Chol Man, Pak Chang Ho, Kang Pong Hun, Kim Chol Sam, Ri Jong Nam, Ri Thae Il, Sin Yong Chol, Jang Yong Rok, Rim Kyong Man, Ri Son Gwon, Jon Hak Chol, Kim Chung Gol, Kang Jong Gwan, Kim Jong Nam, Pak Hun, Ri Song Hak, Song Chun Sop, Ri Chung Gil , Kim Sung Jin, Kim Kyong Jun, Kim Sung Du, Jang Ki Ho, Pak Jong Gun, Jang Chun Song, Kim Song Ryong, Kim Yu Il, Ri Yong Gil, Jong Kyong Thaek, Jang Jong Nam, Kim Kwang Chol, Jang Kwang Bong, Kang Yun Sok, U Sang Chol, Jang Chang Ha, Ri Hong Sop, Kang Kyong Ho, Rim Yong Chol, Sim Hong Bin, Kim Kum Chol, Ju Chol Gyu, Yun Jae Hyok, Pak Mun Ho, Kim Sun Chol, Yu Jin, Kang Hak Chol, Ri Yong Hon, Kim Kwang Nam, Han Yong Il, Kim Chol Ha, Ri Kwang Chol, No Kwang Chol, Jon Il Ho, Ri Kuk Chol, Choe Pyong Wan, Pak Jong Chon, Kim Su Gil, Kim Jong Gwan, Jo Kyong Chol, Pang Tu Sop, Rim Kwang Il, Kwon Thae Yong, Kang Sun Nam, So Hong Chan, Kwon Yong Jin, Ri Tu Song, Pak Yong Il, Kim Myong Sik, Kim Kwang Hyok, Kim Jong Gil, Pak Su Il, Choe Tu Yong, Wi Song Il, Pak Kwang Ju, Ri Thae Sop, Choe Chun Gil, Pak Myong Su, Song Yong Gon, Ri Yong Chol, Kim Yong Bok, Ri Pong Chun, Choe Kwang Il, Song Sok Won, Kwak Chang Sik and Han Sun Chol

Alternate Members of the WPK Central Committee

Kim Tong Il, Ri Song Bong, Ji Myong Jun, Ri Kye Bong, Ri Ryong Nam, Kim Chol Su, Han Ryong Guk, Wang Chang Uk, Ri Tam, Kang Chol Gu, Kim Il Guk, Chae Song Hak, Ri Chol San, Choe Son Hui, Jo Yong Dok, Ri Chan Hwa, Kim Ki Ryong, So Ho Won, Yun Jong Ho, Im Kyong Jae, Ju Yong Il, Pak Hyok Chol, Ri Hyok Gwon, Jang Kyong Il, Jin Kum Song, Kim Chung Song, Choe Kyong Chol, Nam Chol Gwang, Ko Jong Bom, So Jong Jin, Kim Yong Sik, Sim Sung Gon, Kang Kwon Il, Sung Jong Gyu, Pak Chol Min, Jang Chun Sil, Pak In Chol, Han Jong Hyok, Sin Hong Chol, Ri Song Ryol, Choe Hui Thae, Kang Hyong Bong, Kim Yong Chol, Ri Hyong Gun, Pak Man Ho, Ri Song Guk, Sin Chang Il, O Kyong Ryong, Kye Myong Chol, Pak Myong Son, Pak Jong Ho, Kim Yong Nam, Jo Jun Mo, Ri Sung Ho, Choe Myong Su, Sin Myong Son , Kim Jin Yong, Ri Hang Gol, Han Man Hung, Yang Myong Chol , Kim Kwang Bok, Song Sung Chol, O Chun Yong, Ham Se Jin, Kim Hyon Il, Ok Yong Su, Ri Jong Gil, Ri Chang Gil, Choe Song Nam, An Pok Man, Choe Jang Il, Ko Myong Chol, Jang Kyong Chol, Han Myong Su, Kim Son Uk, Choe Sung Ryong, Ro Ik, Jong Yon Hak, Choe Rak Hyon, So Won Gil, Kim Yong Chol, Ham Nam Hyok, Han Song Nam, Kim Kwang Yong, Myong Song Chol, Hong Man Ho, Thae Jin Hyok, Ri Kyong Il, Kim Myong Hyok, Kim Hyong Bom, Kim Yong Gu, Kim Su Nam, Ri Song Do, O Kum Chol, Mun Jong Ung, Choe Kyong Chol, Kang Son, Kim Kwang Uk, Ho Kwang Il, Pak Ji Min, Kim Jong Chol, Ri Min Chol, Min Hui Bok, Ri Kyong Chon, Ko Myong Su, Kim Hak Chol, Kim Ju Sam, Kim Chun Gyo, Kim Yong Ho, Rim Kwang Ung and Kim Pok Nam

 

[1] Before 2010, the Rules were amended in 1948, 1956, 1970 and 1980. 노동당 규약 [WPK Rules], Ministry of Unification, available at: https://nkinfo.unikorea.go.kr/nkp/term/viewNkKnwldgDicary.do?pageIndex=1&dicaryId=51

[2] Article 11 of the DPRK's Constitution states: "The DPRK shall conduct all activities under the leadership of the Workers' Party of Korea."

[3] 조선로동당규약 [WPK Rules], Workers' Party of Korea, 28 September 2010, available at: https://www.northkoreatech.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/WPKCharter28SEP10.pdf

[4] 조선노동당규약 서문 [WPK Rules Preface]. Ministry of Unification, 12 April 2012, available at: https://nkinfo.unikorea.go.kr/nkp/pblictn/viewPblictn.do?pageIndex=4&pblictnId=47&originCd=OC0003& tabType=pblictn_pic; 조선로동당규약개정에 대한 결정서 [Decision on the WPK Rules Revision], KCNA, 11 April 2012

[5] 조선로동당 제7차대회에서 《조선로동당규약》개정에 대한 결정서 채택[7 th WPK Congress Adopted a Decision on the Revision of the WPK Rules], Rodong Sinmun, 10 May 2016

[6] The decision stated that it supplemented the WPK Rules to reflect content on the parallel economic and nuclear development. (경제건설과 핵무력 건설을 병진시키는 (...) 데 대한 내용을 [당 규약에] 보충했다고 결정서는 밝혔다” [조선로동당 제7차대회에서 《조선로동당규약》개정에 대한 결정서 채택[7 th WPK Congress Adopted a Decision on the Revision of the WPK Rules], Rodong Sinmun, 10 May 2016]); The Full Text of Kim Jong Un's Remarks at the Plenary Session of the Party Central Committee, KCNA, 1 April 2013

[7] 조선로동당 제8차대회에서 조선로동당규약개정에 대한 결정서 채택 [8th WPK Congress Adopted a Decision on the Revision of the WPK Rules], Rodong Sinmun, 10 January 2021; WPK Rules Revised at 8th Congress of WPK, KCNA, 10 January 2021

[8] "우리 국가의 지위와 국력이 근본적으로 변화되고 승리에서 더 큰 승리를 향하여 힘차게 전진하고있는 혁명발전의 요구를 반영하여 인민대중제일주의정치를 사회주의기본정치방식으로 정식화하였다. 이것은 자기 발전의 전행정에서 인민의 요구와 리익을 첫자리에 놓고 인민생활을 끊임없이 높이기 위하여 투쟁하여온 조선로동당의 혁명적본태와 드팀없는 의지의 발현이다."

[9] "그리고 조국통일을 위한 투쟁과업부분에 강력한 국방력으로 근원적인 군사적위협들을 제압하여 조선반도의 안정과 평화적환경을 수호한다는데 대하여 명백히 밝히였다. 이것은 강위력한 국방력에 의거하여 조선반도의 영원한 평화적안정을 보장하고 조국통일의 력사적위업을 앞당기려는 우리 당의 확고부동한 립장의 반영으로 된다."

[10] "제6장 《조선인민군안의 당조직》에서는 조선로동당의 혁명적무장력으로서의 인민군대의 성격을 명백히 규제하고 인민군대안의 각급 당조직들의 임무를 구체화하였다. 인민군대의 본질적특성과 사명에 맞게 조선인민군은 국가방위의 기본력량, 혁명의 주력군으로서 사회주의조국과 당과 혁명을 무장으로 옹호보위하고 당의 령도를 앞장에서 받들어나가는 조선로동당의 혁명적무장력이라고 규제하였다."

[11] According to the official announcement, the WPK Central Committee "modified and supplemented some contents of the Party Rules in line with the development and principle of the Party work to meet the requirements of the developing revolution and corresponding to the new fighting tasks facing the Party" (WPK Rules Revised at 8th Congress of WPK, KCNA, 10 January 2021). This stated objective also reflects the contents of the key policy report made by Kim Jong Un one day prior on 8 January 2021. Though the actual text of the report is not made public, part four ("For Development of Party Work") is described as focusing on "tasks and ways for bringing about radical innovation in the Party work in line with the present situation, in which the Korean revolution has entered the period of new development and leap." It is further reported that the "first task is to attach primary importance to establishing the monolithic leadership system and further develop it." (Great Programme for Struggle Leading Korean-style Socialist Construction to Fresh Victory - On Report Made by Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un at Eighth Congress of WPK, KCNA, 9 January 2021)

[12] "우리 국가의 지위와 국력이 근본적으로 변화되고 승리에서 더 큰 승리를 향하여 힘차게 전진하고있는 혁명발전의 요구를 반영하여 인민대중제일주의정치를 사회주의기본정치방식으로 정식화하였다. 이것은 자기 발전의 전행정에서 인민의 요구와 리익을 첫자리에 놓고 인민생활을 끊임없이 높이기 위하여 투쟁하여온 조선로동당의 혁명적본태와 드팀없는 의지의 발현이다."

[13] "Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism is, in essence, the people-first doctrine and a person who worships the people as God and works devotedly for them is just a genuine Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist." (Kim Jong Un Delivers Address at the Fourth Conference of Cell Secretaries of the Workers' Party of Korea, KCNA, 30 January 2013)

[14] "그리고 조국통일을 위한 투쟁과업부분에 강력한 국방력으로 근원적인 군사적위협들을 제압하여 조선반도의 안정과 평화적환경을 수호한다는데 대하여 명백히 밝히였다. 이것은 강위력한 국방력에 의거하여 조선반도의 영원한 평화적안정을 보장하고 조국통일의 력사적위업을 앞당기려는 우리 당의 확고부동한 립장의 반영으로 된다."

[15] WPK Rules Revised at 8th Congress of WPK, KCNA, 10 January 2021

[16] Further information is required to ascertain if he, in fact, retained his departmental position, which he gained as part of the reshuffle during the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the WPK. (Report on 5th Plenary Meeting of 7th C.C., WPK, KCNA, 1 January 2020)

[17] While Kim Yo Jong is not featured in the new Political Bureau, she had a prominent seat during the plenum of the Presidium of the WPK Congress and was present throughout the proceedings. She also authored a KCNA piece condemning South Korean intelligence efforts for focussing on military parade preparations (Statement of Vice Department Director of WPK Central Committee Kim Yo Jong Issued, KCNA, 13 January 2021). Also notable about the piece is an apparent change in title from First Vice Department Director (제1부부장) to Vice Department Director (부부장) of the WPK Central Committee. Further information will be required to ascertain both her formal and informal role following the reshuffle.

[18] He was only last year promoted to Marshal of the Korean People's Army and appears to play a key role in overseeing the development of the DPRK's nuclear weapons and missile programmes. (Title of KPA Marshal Conferred in DPRK, KCNA, 6 October 2020)

[19] Press Release of First Plenary Meeting of 8th Central Committee of WPK Issued, Rodong Sinmun, 11 January 2021

[20] Press Release of 8th Congress of WPK, Rodong Sinmun, 11 January 2021