By Yasunobu Shirouchi
China, North Korea’s most important friend, had a weak presence at the first national congress held by the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in 36 years. There was no mention of China in the decision adopted by the party congress endorsing Kim Jong Un’s report on the work of the WPK Central Committee. China also did not send a delegation to the congress, reflecting deteriorating relations between the two countries as a result of North Korea’s nuclear test and de facto ballistic missile launches.
According to a diplomatic source, North Korea did not invite a Chinese delegation to attend the party congress. During the last WPK Congress in October 1980, China sent (then) Vice President Li Xiannian, the fourth ranking Communist Party of China (CPC) leader, to Pyongyang.
The CPC sent a congratulatory cable on the opening of the WPK Congress on May 6, saying: “[China] attaches great importance to the China-North Korea relationship. It hopes for the perpetuation of friendship between the two countries through generations.”
Renmin Ribao, the CPC’s official organ, carried the text of the cable on its front page on May 7, while the WPK organ, Rodong Sinmun merely published the cable inconspicuously on page seven.
Kim’s report and the decision adopted by the WPK Congress spelled out the DPRK’s demands and policies on the U.S., the ROK, and Japan. However, there was no mention of China, with which North Korea has strong economic ties.
The WPK’s endorsement of the report stresses that, “The abnormal situation where resolutions legitimizing the U.S.’s aggression and war machination are being adopted in the United Nations (UN) and other international organizations is unacceptable.” It asserts that, “We must reduce to ashes the façade of ‘justice’ of the imperialists and hegemonists.” This indicates North Korea’s displeasure with China’s voting for the UN resolution imposing sanctions on the DPRK.
According to a North Korean source, shortly after the nuclear test in January, Kim remarked that “China is no longer a comrade; it has become an enemy.” There have been reports that he gave a speech to WPK members criticizing China. If these reports are true, North Korea is now defying China, which is careful to prevent the DRPK from getting out of control while applying pressure on it.
Commenting on Kim Jong Un’s declaration that North Korea is now a “nuclear power,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang stated nonchalantly on May 9 that “China’s position on the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula remains unchanged,” limiting himself to stating China’s basic position.