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N. Korea Holds ‘Three Revolutions’ Conference

#Issues l 2021-11-25

Korea, Today and Tomorrow

ⓒ YONHAP News

North Korea holds the Conference of Frontrunners of the Three Revolutions with the purpose of respecting officials and units that performed well in the three fields of ideology, technology and culture and expanding the exemplary cases. The conference has been held about every ten years since November 1986. But the latest event, the fifth of its kind, took place only six years after the previous session in 2015. Here is Hong Min, researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, with more. 


Former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung called for the revolution in three areas such as ideology, technology and culture during the fifth party congress in 1970. His son and successor Kim Jong-il launched the so-called Red Flags Achievement Movement to produce more tangible results in the three revolutions. The movement gives red flags to people, depending on their outcome in the three revolutions. 


This year marks current leader Kim Jong-un’s tenth anniversary of governing the regime. North Korea hopes to celebrate the occasion in a big way, but it actually has very few achievements to boast. By highlighting people who have worked hard in each area through such an event, North Korea seems to be consolidating internal unity and placating the people suffering from economic hardships.


Leader Kim Jong-un did not attend the conference but sent a letter instead, urging the people to actively implement the Three Revolutions Red Flags Achievement Movement. But it is uncertain if North Korea may produce some positive outcome under the old slogan, namely, the three revolutions. 


It appears that Kim Jong-un relies on the legacy of the era of his father and grandfather, rather than his own practical policy. It shows that the leader has nothing particular to show off, as far as policies are concerned. Even before Kim Jong-un came to power, North Korean society introduced many elements of a market economy, while people’s perception about the state changed significantly. It is questionable if the old catchphrase from the past will appeal to the people in the current times.


North Korean media outlets said on Monday that the conference adopted a letter of plea for leaders, officials and workers of the three revolutions nationwide. 


It is worth noting that the media urged the entire society to embrace comrade Kim Jong-un’s revolutionary ideology. 


The phrase, “comrade Kim Jong-un’s revolutionary ideology,” has never appeared before. Under Kim Jong-un’s rule, North Korea has never advocated any ideology or philosophy using his name. The unusual phrase implies that the country might be attempting to create its own ideological system related to the current leader, adopt it as a ruling ideology and use it as a means of social unity. If that’s the case, the new ideological system may soon be announced or take a more concrete shape at least. 


If the past is any guide, however, terms like Kimilsungism and Kimjongilism did not appear while the former leaders were alive. Therefore, it would be very unusual if North Korea creates an ideological system named after the current leader, like Kimjongunism, while he is still alive. Perhaps, it may show the leader’s confidence in his power. Or, it could indicate that the country badly needs to boost internal solidarity amid severe difficulties, ideologically speaking.


On November 16, before the three revolutions conference started, local media agencies reported Kim Jong-un’s field inspection of the Samjiyon City construction site. It was his first public appearance in over a month since he attended a defense exhibition on October 11. Why did he choose Samjiyon as a venue for his outing after his month-long absence from public activities?


Samjiyon is known in North Korea as a sacred place of revolution. North Korea claims that former leader Kim Jong-il was born at Mt. Baekdu, which is located in the northwest of Samjiyon, and the ruling Kim family is referred to as the Baekdu bloodline. 

The region has often been in the news since Kim Jong-un took power. In the course of strengthening his power and announcing major foreign policies, the leader visited Samjiyon before making important decisions. 


Samjiyon is also the place where a massive construction project is underway. Marking the tenth year of his rule, Kim Jong-un visited the site of one of his key construction projects, in an apparent move to show his commitment to applying the model of urban development to various other regions in the country. 


Meanwhile, on November 17, the U.N. General Assembly Third Committee adopted a resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights infringement and calling for improving the situation. The U.N. has now adopted a North Korean human rights resolution for the 17th consecutive year. The resolution will be presented to the plenary session of the U.N. General Assembly next month. 


North Korea’s ambassador to the U.N. Kim Song lashed out at the resolution. He said that the human rights infringement mentioned in the resolution never existed and the resolution is the result of hostile policies and double standards of the U.S. and the European Union. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry also said on Sunday that it strongly denounces and flatly rejects the adoption of the resolution, calling it a serious violation of North Korea’s sovereignty. 


North Korea is highly sensitive about the human rights issue. In a landmark report in 2014, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry concluded that systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights had been committed in North Korea. The report even suggested referring the case to the International Criminal Court. For North Korea, bringing up the human rights issue is considered an act of insulting the regime. If North Korea residents become aware of international criticism of human rights abuses in their country, they may develop a strong desire for democracy and an improvement in the human rights situation. That’s why the authorities are sensitive about this issue. 


While the local media are furious about the international move to condemn the North’s human rights abuses, North Korea tries to conform to some human rights standards required by international organizations. For example, the North has joined treaties concerning women’s rights and children’s rights and submitted relevant reports regularly, in a bid to dispel worries about its human rights situation. The country has an ambivalent attitude toward the human rights issue. 


On November 16, U.S. President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping held a bilateral summit in the form of a video conference. The two leaders reportedly stressed the importance of policy coordination between their countries, citing North Korea-related issues as one of the concerns in which the U.S. and China need to cooperate. But the two superpowers still engage in a fierce tug-of-war and remain poles apart on their views on various other areas, including the issue of Taiwan. In this situation, attention turns to how North Korea may act down the road. 


I think the Beijing Winter Olympics to be held next February will be a major turning point in regional diplomacy. There are reports that the U.S. is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics. If that happens, Japan may follow suit. Apart from the Winter Games, the U.S. and China will likely continue with their intense tug-of-war throughout the first half of next year. In the process, North Korea could get even closer to China. 


Pyongyang has already vowed to advance its strategic and tactical weapons and actually displayed such weapons. To remind the outside world of its commitment to weapons development, North Korea may push ahead with a weapons test yet again at the end of the year or early next year. 


North Korea will convene the plenary session of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party later this year or early next year to set the policy direction for 2022. 


I imagine the North will reaffirm its commitment to the constant development of strategic and tactical weapons, amid the prolonged showdown with the U.S.  Regarding South Korea, the North will also likely continue to show its intention to improve relations with the South on the condition of Seoul’s withdrawal of hostile policies toward Pyongyang. 


At present, North Korea has a mountain of tasks to contend with, such as its stagnant relations with the outside world, ever-worsening economic difficulties and escalating public jitters triggered by the pandemic-induced border shutdown. We’ll have to wait and see how leader Kim Jong-un will disentangle these tricky and complicated problems.

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