North Korea’s legislature approved changes to the constitution to solidify leader Kim Jong Un’s role as head of state, elevating him to the status of his grandfather – the communist nation’s founder.
The move comes after Kim was formally named head of state and commander-in-chief of the military in a new constitution in July that analysts said was possibly aimed at preparing for a peace treaty with the United States.
Kim’s legal status “has been further consolidated to firmly ensure the monolithic guidance of the Supreme Leader over all state affairs,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted Choe Ryong Hae, president of the presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, as saying.
Previously, Kim was simply referred to as “supreme leader” who commanded the country’s “overall military force”.
“With the amendment, Kim Jong Un is reviving his grandfather’s head of state system,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute. “He has become a de facto head of state.”
Kim was under 30 when he inherited power in late 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. He has since firmly established his authority, overseeing four of its six nuclear tests.
A third-generation hereditary leader, Kim rules North Korea with an iron fist and the change will mean little to the way he wields power.
The constitutional revision is unprecedented and Kim is emerging as the most powerful leader since his grandfather Kim Il Sung, said Rachel Minyoung Lee, an analyst with NK News, a website that tracks North Korea.
“By further bolstering the SAC chairman’s authority, Kim Jong Un is now on par with Kim Il Sung,” she said.
The power consolidation move comes with nuclear disarmament talks between Pyongyang and Washington gridlocked after a second summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February collapsed without a deal and exposed disagreements between the two sides.
North Korea has long called for a peace deal with the United States to normalise relations and end the technical state of war that has existed since the 1950-1953 Korean conflict, which concluded with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
‘Hacked to pieces’
On Thursday, North Korea promised never to give up its vast weaponry saying it was needed to protect itself from foreign intervention.
North Korea accused the United Kingdom, France and Germany of meddling in its “self-defensive measures”, adding the West will make “no greater mistake” than thinking Pyongyang will give up its right to have arms that it said are needed to ensure peace.
KCNA circulated a statement from Kim Son Gyong, an adviser at the Korea-Europe Association, in response to a joint statement on Tuesday from the three key US allies condemning Pyongyang’s “repeated provocative launches” of ballistic missiles.
The three European countries said in their statement: “International sanctions must remain in place and be fully and strictly enforced until North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes are dismantled.”
Gyong said defending national security had become more important after seeing countries “whose destinies were hacked to pieces by the Western powers”, and which yielded to Western demands “for disarmament under the pressure and appeasement of international society”.
The Europeans are picking “an unreasonable quarrel with us over our measures for developing conventional weapons, while deliberately turning their faces away from the military exercises and the introduction of latest lethal weapons in South Korea,” said Gong.