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 decisions taken during the 8th Congress and analyzes the directions of the country’s economic, national defence and external policies, including its nuclear weapons programme.
Kim Jong Un demonstrated his leadership and his central control over the Party by reshuffling most of the key leaders and changing the structure of the WPK. Kim Yo Jong, his sister, appears to maintain her special proximity to Kim Jong Un.
Kim Jong Un identified “ socialist economic construction” as the most important task and dedicated a significant part of his 2021 report to economic affairs. The national defence policy received less emphasis than it received from the 7th Congress. In addition, the number of military personnel in attendance at the recent Congress was only 8.2% of the total number of participants, a significant drop from 19.6% participation by such personnel during the 7th Congress.
The 2021-2025 five-year plan upholds the “people-first principle” which dictates that the demands and interests of the people are to be the top priority of all industrial sectors. This principle is in contrast to the “military-first politics” (Songun politics) prioritizing the Korean People’s Army (KPA), which had been the guiding ideology of Kim Jong Il. However, the 2021-2025 plan also contains policies that are aimed at strengthening discipline among the people and tightening control over the influx of foreign-sourced information which could destabilize the DPRK regime.
The 2021-2025 plan includes a large number of ambitious goals, encompassing economy, society, national defence and governance, but the information released so far offers little in the way of practical pathways for achieving those goals. With the DPRK under considerable resource constraints, it is unclear how the plan is to be implemented.