Kim Jong-un has said North Korea is close to testing long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
During his New Year’s message, Kim Jong-un claimed that the intercontinental ballistic missiles were in their “last stage” of development.
North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests in 2016, including its biggest one to date.
This raised fears that Pyongyang has made significant nuclear advances.
However, it has never successfully test-fired such a missile.
Reuters reported a senior US military official as saying that although Pyongyang appears able to put a miniaturized nuclear warhead on a missile, the missile re-entry technology necessary for longer range strikes is still a serious obstacle to its weapons development.
Kim Jong-un, who took control of the secretive state following his father’s death in 2011, said during a TV addresss: “Research and development of cutting edge arms equipment is actively progressing and ICBM [inter-continental ballistic missile] rocket test launch preparation is in its last stage.”
The north Krean leader said his country was now a “military power of the East that cannot be touched by even the strongest enemy”.
UN resolutions call for an end to North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.
When Pyongyang tested its nuclear bomb in September 2016, estimates varied on how strong it was.
The September test triggered widespread condemnation and further international sanctions against North Korea.
The US, South Korea and Japan have agreed to work together to increase pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
The deputy foreign ministers of South Korea, Japan and the US made the announcement after meeting in Tokyo.
The move comes after top US intelligence official James Clapper said that North Korean denuclearization was “probably a lost cause”.
North Korea carried out its fifth and largest nuclear test in September.
The North also claims to have made rapid progress developing long-range rockets, which could be used to strike the American mainland.
Speaking after the Tokyo talks, US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “We will not accept North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons, period.”
On October 25, James Clapper told an audience in New York that North Korea’s “paranoid” leadership saw nuclear weapons as “their ticket to survival” and the best the US could hope for was a cap on their capabilities.
Following the comments, the US State Department said its policy had not changed and it still aimed for a resumption of the six-nation talks that North Korea pulled out of in 2009.
Also on October 27 South Korea said it would restart talks with Japan on direct sharing of military intelligence on North Korea – information that currently goes via Washington.
South Korea is also expected to begin hosting an advanced US missile defense system soon, despite opposition from North Korea and China.
According to South Korean officials, North Korea could be ready to conduct another nuclear test at any time.
North Korea conducted its fifth underground nuclear test on September 9, thought to be its most powerful yet.
A South Korean defense ministry spokesman said there was still an unused tunnel at the Punggye-ri test site which could be used for a sixth explosion at any time.
Last week’s widely condemned test has ratcheted up tension and led to fierce rhetoric from South Korea.
On September 11, one South Korean military source told the Yonhap news agency that Pyongyang could be annihilated if it showed any signs of mounting a nuclear attack.
While doubts remain over North Korea’s claim that it can now mount nuclear warheads on ballistic rockets – meaning it can carry out a nuclear attack – experts say the recent progress is worrying.
On September 12, Yonhap cited an unnamed government source as saying reports indicated the North had finished preparations for a further test, in previously unused tunnel at the Punggye-ri site deep underneath mountains in the north-east.
“Intelligence authorities in Seoul and Washington are keeping close tabs,” the unnamed government official was quoted as saying.
Defense ministry spokesperson Moon Sang-gyun later gave a similar statement to reporters. He would not give further details citing security reasons.
The UN Security Council has already agreed to start drawing up new sanctions against North Korea, something the North called “laughable”.
Pyongyang has carried out two nuclear tests in 2016, as well as several tests of powerful missiles. Both are banned by existing sanctions.
On September 12, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported that North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho had arrived in Beijing.
China is North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, but has grown increasingly intolerant of its military actions and Kim Jong-un’s aggressive rhetoric.
China’s support for toughened sanctions is crucial if they are to have any impact.
According to reports from Seoul, South Korea has a plan to annihilate Pyongyang if North Korea shows any signs of mounting a nuclear attack.
A military source told the Yonhap news agency every part of Pyongyang “will be completely destroyed by ballistic missiles and high-explosives shells”.
Yonhap has close ties to South Korea’s government and is publicly funded.
On September 9, North Korea carried out what it said was its fifth, and largest, nuclear test.
The international community is considering its response.
The US says it is considering its own sanctions, in addition to any imposed by the UN Security Council, Japan and South Korea.
Pyongyang responded on September 11 by calling the threats of “meaningless sanctions… highly laughable”.
The South Korean military official told Yonhap that Pyongyang districts thought to be hiding the North’s leadership would be particularly targeted in any attack. Pyongyang, the source said, “will be reduced to ashes and removed from the map”.
News of South Korea’s attack plan for North Korea is believed to have been revealed to parliament following September 9 nuclear test.
Meanwhile, the US’s special envoy for North Korea says Washington is considering taking unilateral action against Pyongyang.
Sung Kim said: “North Korea continues to present a growing threat to the region, to our allies, to ourselves, and we will do everything possible to defend against that growing threat.
“In addition to sanctions in the Security Council, both the US and Japan, together with [South Korea], will be looking at any unilateral measures as well as bilateral measures as well as possible trilateral cooperation.”
North Korea is banned by the UN from any tests of nuclear or missile technology and has been hit by five sets of UN sanctions since its first test in 2006.
The secretive country said September 9 test had been of a “nuclear warhead that has been standardized to be able to be mounted on strategic ballistic rockets”.
Estimates of the explosive yield of the latest blast have varied. South Korea’s military said it was about 10 kilotonnes, enough to make it the North’s “strongest nuclear test ever”. Other experts say initial indications suggest 20 kilotonnes or more.
The nuclear bomb dropped by the US on Hiroshima in 1945 had a yield of about 15 kilotonnes.
North Korea has successfully carried out its fifth nuclear test, Pyongyang has confirmed.
The government announcement on state media came hours after a seismic event was detected near North Korea’s nuclear test site.
According to South Korean officials, it is North Korea’s biggest ever test, raising fears the state has made real nuclear advances.
South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye called it an act of “self-destruction” showing the “maniacal recklessness” of leader Kim Jong-un. The US warned of “serious consequences”.
China’s foreign ministry said Beijing was resolutely opposed to the test and urged North Korea to avoid further action that would worsen the situation.
North Korea said the test had been of a “newly developed nuclear warhead” and that it was now capable of mounting a nuclear device on ballistic rockets.
South Korea’s military has suggested that the explosive yield of this blast could be almost twice that of the previous nuclear test. Analysts have expressed fears this could mean North Korea is a step closer to having a useable nuclear weapon.
Park Geun-hye, who is cutting short an overseas visit, said the test was a “grave challenge” to the international community that would “only earn more sanctions and isolation” for North Korea.
“Such provocation will further accelerate its path to self-destruction,” she said.
Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe said his country “absolutely cannot condone” any such test and would “protest adamantly” to Pyongyang.
“North Korea’s nuclear development is becoming a graver threat to Japan’s safety and severely undermines the peace and safety of the region and the international community,” he said.
The White House said President Barack Obama had spoken to both Park Geun-hye and Shinzo Abe after the latest test.
A statement from press secretary Josh Earnest said Barack Obama had “reiterated the unbreakable US commitment to the security of our allies in Asia and around the world”.
“The president indicated he would continue to consult our allies and partners in the days ahead to ensure provocative actions from North Korea are met with serious consequences.”
China’s foreign ministry statement read: “Today, [North Korea] again conducted a nuclear test despite widespread international opposition – the Chinese government firmly opposes the test.”
The test was first detected as a 5.3 magnitude earthquake on September 9 in north-east North Korea, close to its Punggye-ri underground nuclear test site.
As with previous nuclear tests, the waveform generated indicated it had not been naturally occurring.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff later said the detonation had a yield of about 10 kilotonnes, making it North Korea’s “strongest nuclear test ever”.
That is almost twice the power of its last test in January, which Pyongyang said at the time had been a hydrogen bomb. Many analysts cast doubt on that claim. The bomb dropped by the US on Hiroshima in 1945 had a yield of about 15 kilotonnes.
A fifth test has long been expected. In recent weeks, satellite imagery has shown increased activity at Punggye-ri.
North Korea also often uses nationally important dates as an opportunity for a show of military strength. September 9 is its National Day, celebrating the founding of the current regime.
It is likely to be some time before the scale and manner of the test are independently confirmed.
Japan has dispatched military aircraft to collect air samples to monitor for radiation, while China said it was monitoring radiation levels close to its borders with North Korea.
North Korea is banned by UN sanctions from any tests of nuclear or missile technology.
In recent months it has conducted a series of ballistic missile launches – some of which reached Japanese waters – and has unleashed a rising tide of aggressive rhetoric, threatening nuclear attacks on its enemies.
North Korea has also been angered by a US and South Korean plan to install an anti-missile defense system in the South and by the allies’ massive annual joint military exercises, which are still taking place.
International sanctions on North Korea were considerably toughened in response to previous nuclear and missile tests but had little impact on Pyongyang’s nuclear arms program.
According to South Korean officials, North Korea has test-fired three ballistic missiles into the waters off its east coast.
The ballistic missiles were launched from the Hwangju region, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said on September 5, according to the Yonhap news agency.
There was no information on the types of missile fired or how far they flew.
North Korea is barred from testing nuclear or ballistic missile technology, but recent months have seen it carry out a string of missile tests.
The secretive country last fired a ballistic missile just two weeks ago from a submarine off its eastern coast, as South Korea and the US began annual military drills which routinely anger the North. On that occasion the KN-11 rocket that was fired flew for about 300 miles before falling into the Sea of Japan.
The latest test took place as world leaders meet at the annual G20 economic summit, being hosted for the first time in China.
Last month’s rocket launch was considered its most successful test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. A test of mid-range missiles in June was also considered successful.
Tensions have soared since North Korea carried out its fourth nuclear test in January.
In July the US and South Korea said they would deploy an anti-missile system to counter North Korea’s threats, but this has been met with anger from Pyongyang and opposition from China.
North Korea executed Vice Premier Kim Yong-jin last month, South Korea government officials have said.
According to Seoul’s unification ministry, Kim Yong-jin was one of Pyongyang’s vice premiers and in charge of education.
Officials did not explain how they got the information. Seoul’s record on reporting such developments is patchy.
In May, North Korean military chief Ri Yong-gil said to have been executed was found to be alive and attending official events.
Ri Yong-gil was widely reported to have been executed in February but when he made an appearance at North Korea’s party congress it highlighted just how difficult it is to get accurate information from the secretive country.
Seoul’s unification ministry, the government department which manages relations with North Korea is, along with the spy agency, South Korea’s primary source of information about Pyongyang.
The unification ministry also said a prominent minister responsible for intelligence and inter-Korean relations, Kim Yong-chol, had been sent for re-education along with another official, named as Choi Hwi, for a month in mid-July.
North Korea itself very rarely provides confirmation of such reports. The last execution Pyongyang released official information about is thought to be the purge of kim Jong-un’s uncle, Chang Song-thaek in 2013.
The strongest confirmation is usually that an executed official simply disappears from media reports.
If this report turns out to be untrue, Kim Yong-jin may well appear in public or be listed as in attendance at a major public event in Pyongyang.
Another clue to his fate might emerge if North Korea announces a replacement vice premier. Again, this does not necessarily mean he has been executed.
Ri Yong-gil was replaced as military chief but turned up months later, albeit with an apparent demotion.
Kim Yong-jin and Ri Yong-gil have held high office and were mentioned in official statements and dispatches from Pyongyang.
While less is known about Kim Yong-jin, Kim Yong-chol has often been seen alongside Kim Jong-un in photographs and is thought to be close to him. At the party congress in May he was named as head of national intelligence.
North Korean officials are frequently sent for re-education, a process that can sometimes be seen as “corporate training” with some emerging from re-education with higher office while others are demoted.
The statement from Seoul’s unification ministry comes a day after an unconfirmed report in a South Korean newspaper said two different high-ranking officials in the departments of education and agriculture had been executed.
If Kim Yong-jin’s execution is confirmed, it would be just the latest in a series of purges and executions of top officials that Kim Jong-un has enacted since he came to power in 2011.
According to South Korean and US officials, North Korea has fired a ballistic missile from a submarine off its east coast.
The KN-11 missile was launched from waters near Sinpo and flew about 300 miles before falling into the Sea of Japan, a US official said.
Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe said it fell inside Japan’s Air Defense Identification Zone, calling it a “reckless act”.
The move comes as South Korea and the US begin annual military drills, which routinely anger Pyongyang.
Ulchi Freedom involves about 80,000 US and South Korean troops in a largely computer-simulated defense of South Korea from a fictional North Korean invasion.
North Korea, which sees these drills as a rehearsal for invasion, recently warned they were pushing the Korean peninsula towards the brink of war and threatened a “pre-emptive nuclear strike” in retaliation.
The communist country is banned by the UN from any use of ballistic or nuclear technology. But in recent months it has carried out repeated missile launches, and is believed to be close to conducting its fifth test of a nuclear device.
Today’s launch appears to have been its most successful test yet of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
SLBMs are of particular concern because of the mobility of submarines and the ease with which launch preparation can remain undetected.
South Korea’s military said it “seemed to be aimed at raising military tension in response to the Seoul-Washington military drill”, the Yonhap news agency reports.
It said it would “sternly and strongly respond to any provocation by North Korea”.
Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe confirmed reports that the missile fell into Japan’s ADIZ, an area of airspace over which a country exercises security controls.
He said it was an “unforgivable, reckless act” which “poses a grave threat to Japan’s security”.
The US State Department said it “strongly condemned” this, and previous missile tests, and would raise concerns at the UN.
North Korea’s launch also coincided with a meeting of foreign ministers from Japan, China and South Korea in Tokyo.
Top North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho, who disappeared from the country’s embassy in the UK, has defected to South Korea, officials in Seoul have confirmed.
Thae Yong-ho and his family are under the government’s protection, a South Korean official said.
He was the ambassador’s deputy and is thought to be the highest-ranking North Korean official ever to defect.
Thae Yong-ho’s main mission in London had been to spread positive perceptions of the North Korean leadership.
He had been due to return to Pyongyang with his wife and children.
Thae Yong-ho had come under pressure from his government to quash growing criticism of North Korea’s human rights record, sources say.
In the past, Thae Yong-ho had argued the British were brainwashed by their ruling class into believing “shocking, terrifying” lies about North Korea under its leader Kim Jong-un.
“If the people in this country, or in America, knew that there is a country in the world where there is a free education, free housing, free medical care, then they’d have second thoughts,” he had said in one speech.
South Korean Unification spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said: “On his reasons for defection, Minister Thae cited disgust with Kim Jong-Un’s regime, admiration for South Korea’s free, democratic system and the future of his family.”
A group of 13 North Korean restaurant workers who defected from China to South Korea earlier this year have been released.
According to South Korean officials, twelve women and one man had now begun the formal process of resettlement in South Korea.
The group defected in April from a North Korean state-run restaurant in the Chinese city of Ningbo.
At the time Seoul said the size of the defection was “unprecedented” and held them for further investigation.
Most North Korean defectors are first held at an interrogation facility to screen for potential spies and then put through a state resettlement program for three months, the AFP news agency reports.
However, in this case the National Intelligence Service (NIS) said it held the workers in “protective custody” because the case was very high profile. It added that North Korea was using the case for propaganda by claiming the female workers had been abducted by Seoul’s spy agency.
The thirteen defectors left a halfway house on August 11, local media reports said. Seoul’s Unification Ministry merely confirmed they had been released but did not give more details.
The release comes just one day after a diplomat at the North Korean embassy in London was reported to have defected and fled abroad with his family.
Thae Yong Ho had served as deputy to the ambassador and was responsible for promoting the image of his country to British audiences.
The group of restaurant workers all left China by legal means on April 6, a Chinese spokesman confirmed after the defection. Unlike many defectors, they all had valid travel documents.
The restaurant was reportedly in Ningbo, in China’s north-eastern province of Zhejiang.
North Korea runs some 130 restaurants in other countries which provide a much-needed source of income.
The North Korean staff is thought to be handpicked from families loyal to the state.
South Korean gymnast Lee Eun-ju of South Korea and fellow North Korean Hong Un-jong posed for a selfie during the training period before the start of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The images of the two gymnasts have been widely praised as capturing the Olympic spirit.
North Korea and South Korea are technically still at war with each other and relations between the two countries have been more tense in recent months, with recent missile launches from Pyongyang.
Political scientist Ian Bremmer tweeted: “This is why we do the Olympics.”
Ian Bremmer’s tweet was re-tweeted more than 18,000 times.
Others hailed it as the “most iconic photo” of the games.
Lee Eun-ju, 17, and 27-year-old Hong Un-jong both competed as individual qualifiers, with the games in Brazil being Lee’s first Olympics.
Hong Un-jong became North Korea’s first gymnast to win a medal at the Olympic Games when she took home the gold in vault in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Many users were quick to point out the contrasting attitudes portrayed by the South and North Korean athlete in comparison to the Lebanese Olympic Team, who allegedly refused to ride on the same bus with Israeli athletes.
According to Udi Gal, a member of Israel’s Olympic sailing team, the organizers intervened and the two teams traveled separately to “prevent an international and physical incident”, he said in a post on Facebook.
“How could they let this happen on the eve of the Olympic Games? Isn’t this the opposite of what the Olympics represents?” Udi Gal said.
Lebanon and Israel are officially at war and have no diplomatic relations.
However, they weren’t the only two countries to get off to a rocky start.
Chinese authorities clashed with Australian Olympic gold medalist Mack Horton, after he called Chinese defending champion Sun Yang a “drug cheat”.
“We think his inappropriate words greatly hurt the feelings between Chinese and Australian swimmers,” said China’s swimming team manager Xu Qi to Chinese news outlet Xinhua.
“We strongly demand an apology.”
Users on social media also quickly flooded Mack Horton’s social media with angry comments.
A North Korean defector has entered the South Korean consulate in Hong Kong seeking asylum, the South China Morning Post reports.
The publication reported that the 18-year-old
defector participated in the International Mathematical Olympiad held in Hong Kong recently.
Police patrols around the area have been boosted and security stepped up.
China, which has authority over Hong Kong’s diplomatic issues, has reportedly been notified.
South Korea’s foreign ministry declined to comment, with an official saying the government’s position was not to make any comments related to defectors from Pyongyang.
Local media suggests the Hong Kong government is keen to avoid a similar outcome of a saga in 2013 where US whistle-blower Edward Snowden hid in a Hong Kong hotel before flying to Russia for temporary asylum.
Under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the constitutional document of the territory, China has authority over diplomatic issues.
China usually sends back North Koreans found entering its territory illegally. South Korea usually takes in and rehabilitates North Koreans who escape.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry’s website says more than 29,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the end of the Korean War.
The antagonism that exists between South Korea and Japan has a historical background. Contemporary hostility is traced back to 1910 when Japan ruled Korea until 1945 at the end of World War II, when Korea gained independence and became a separate country. The rulers of both Asian nations did try to establish friendlier ties but always ended back at the negotiating table with issues unresolved.
Thus when, in December 2015, Tokyo and Seoul reached a historic agreement, many entities were elated. President Obama was understandably the most pleased, since the United States had been constantly in the background pushing for its key Asian allies to have a warmer relationship. The aforementioned landmark deal concerned the subject of the “comfort women.” These are the Koreans that were allegedly forcibly used by the Japanese soldiers for sexual services. The respective foreign ministers of both countries met in Seoul and announced that the matter would be “finally and irreversibly resolved” as soon as certain conditions were met.
On the other hand, there were elements that were not happy with the agreement, North Korea foremost among them. An alliance between the two, supported by Washington, will make the sanctions imposed on Pyongyang more forceful and their combined military strength to combat Kim Jong-un’s aggressive nuclear weapons deployments will be harder to overcome. Pyongyang has set in motion protests and rallies to incite South Korean sentiments against the comfort women agreement. Chong Dae Hyup, an organization that supports the women and is leaning towards North Korea has gathered people to march to protest the deal and is looking for legal ways to make the agreement invalid. The state-owned media group KCNA has accused the United States government of fooling its Asian allies into entering the deal. A Japan-based North Korean group has called the deal a “humiliating diplomacy” for South Korea. In LA, California, a Korean American civic group launched a petition to have US Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken terminated for aiding in the successful resolution.
Since the Korean War (1950 – 1953) technically never ended even though an armistice agreement stopped the fighting, Pyongyang is still hopeful for a reunification of the two sides. On the surface, it looks like a noble goal. But the North Korean leadership will only entertain a union on its conditions, mainly that its social structure will prevail. Reunification will also be costly for South Korea if it will take on the burden of lifting Pyongyang’s impoverished economy. It will also have to submit itself to the communist rule. This could be why the younger generation of South Koreans is indifferent to a reunion while the older population, hoping to reunite with family members, has shown more eagerness. Moreover, some sectors see South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s openness to a unified Korea as a mere political gambit to earn some of her people’s support. Park is keen enough to realize that it is not in Seoul’s best interest to open talks with the North.
But the agreement between Tokyo and Seoul that resolves the comfort women issue has dashed hopes for a Korean reunification. One positive outcome of the deal is the trilateral ties that now bind the United States and the two Asian powerhouses. The three nations have already agreed to hold joint military drills in Hawaii on the occasion of the Rim of the Pacific Exercise which will be held in the latter part of June. The joint exercise will focus on the detection and tracing of North Korean missiles without actually firing any. Each country will have its own Aegis warship, naval vessels that can defeat enemy ballistic missiles. This activity was decided based on a December 2014 information-sharing agreement between the three countries.
The concerns of allied nations over North Korea are well-founded. Since 2006, there has been a series of rocket launches and ballistic missile tests that have become more frequent in the past few months. In response to a regular joint drill by the US and South Korea in March, the Korean Central News Agency reported that North Korea’s National Defence Commission said, “If we push the buttons to annihilate the enemies even right now, all bases of provocations will be reduced to flames and ashes in a moment…” Even if the recent missile tests failed, Pres. Obama has said they are still taking the matter very seriously.
The “comfort women” issue has been a thorny topic that hindered talks between South Korea and Japan for years. The key factors are the conflicting versions each nation has of what really transpired during the war and the awaited apologies and compensation for the women which Japan has given countless times. Now that a resolution has been reached, North Korea is posing a dead weight and sowing tension between Japan and South Korea to push for its own agenda.
The North Korean Workers’ Party is holding its first congress since 1980.
Analysts believe the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, will cement his status within the party’s structure at this rare political gathering.
The first full congress of the ruling party in 36 years is being closely watched for any shift in policies or changes in political leadership.
Kim Jong-un is expected to reassert his nuclear ambitions, amid speculation he will soon conduct a fifth nuclear test.
Foreign media have been invited but are not allowed inside the venue.
Capital Pyongyang was spruced up ahead of the event and citizens laid flowers in central squares as it got under way.
The streets are lined with National and Workers’ Party flags with banners that read “Great comrades Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il will always be with us” and “Defend the headquarters of the Korean revolution at the cost of the our lives”.
It is the seventh meeting of North Korea’s Worker’s Party and the first since 1980, and is being held inside the April 25 House of Culture, now covered in vast red and gold banners and massive images of the current leader’s father and grandfather.
This year’s event is shrouded in secrecy. About 100 foreign journalists have been invited to the congress and reporters are being closely monitored.
Kim Jong-un is inside the hall with guards lined up outside.
Instead of being allowed into the congress, reporters have instead been taken to on a factory tour.
The agenda and duration of the event is not known but experts say Kim Jong-un is likely to declare his so-called “byongjin” policy, which is the simultaneous push towards economic development and nuclear capability.
It could also see a new generation of leaders put in place.
The meeting will elect a new central committee, which appoints a Politburo – the central decision-making body of the Communist party – and many say loyalists to the current leader will be rewarded with high profile posts.
Who he chooses will be watched carefully. In 2013 Kim Jong-un had his uncle executed for “acts of treachery” and there have followed many reports of purges of high profile figures in the establishment.
Some experts have said that Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong, with whom he attended school in Switzerland, is tipped for promotion.
Many observers will scrutinize announcements carefully to evaluate North Korea’s commitment to a planned economy and hints at reform, but the congress is also being seen as the public stage for Kim Jong-un to define his leadership for the years to come.
No congress was held during the rule of Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il. His death in 2011 brought Kim Jong-un to power when he was still in his twenties.
The 1980 congress, held before Kim Jong-un was born, saw Kim Jong-il presented as successor to the North’s founding leader Kim Il-Sung.
Despite his death in 1994, Kim Il-Sung, who has been named North Korea’s “eternal president”, still officially presides over the latest congress.
Kim Dong-chul, a 62-year-old naturalized US citizen born in South Korea, was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in April 2016 for spying.
Otto Frederick Warmbier, a US student who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 for trying to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel and “crimes against the state”.
Hyeon Soo Lim, a Canadian Christian pastor of South Korean origin, was sentenced to a life term of hard labor in December 2015, also for “crimes against the state”.
Sandra Suh, an American aid worker, was arrested then expelled in April 2015, accused of gathering and producing anti-North Korea propaganda.
Matthew Todd Miller, an American citizen who was sentenced to 6 years of hard labor in September 2014 for what North Korean state media described as “hostile acts”, but was released in November 2014.
Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Evangelical Christian Missionary who was arrested in November 2012 and accused of using his tourism business to form groups to overthrow the North Korean government. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in May 2013 but was released along with Matthew Todd Miller.
Jeffrey Edward Fowle, an American citizen was detained for five months and charged with “anti-state” crimes. He was released in October 2014.
Merrill Newman, a Korean War veteran who was held in October 2013 on charges of “hostile acts”. He was released in December 2013.
US citizen Kim Dong-chul has been sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in North Korea.
Kim Dong-chul, who was born in South Korea, was arrested in October 2015 after being accused of spying.
In March, the 62-year-old had made an apparent confession in Pyongyang in front of reporters, saying he was paid by South Korean intelligence officers.
The US has previously accused North Korea of using its citizens as pawns in a diplomatic game. The North Korean government denies the accusations.
Last month, US student Otto Frederick Warmbier was jailed for 15 years for stealing a propaganda sign and “crimes against the state”.
North Korea has previously said Kim Dong-chul had a USB stick containing military and nuclear secrets on him when he was arrested in the special economic zone of Rason.
Kim Dong-chul, who used to live in Virginia, had said he was introduced to South Korean spies by US intelligence officers.
Forced public confessions by foreign prisoners are common in North Korea.
Kim Dong-chul’s imprisonment comes amid a period of high tensions. North Korea has recently conducted a series of missile tests following its fourth nuclear test in January, both of which break UN sanctions.
Pyongyang attempted to launch two mid-range ballistic missiles on April 28 which crashed shortly after their launches, prompting an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
It is believed North Korea will attempt a fifth nuclear test soon.
The recent burst in activity is thought to be a ramp-up to a rare party congress due to be held on May 6, where leader Kim Jong-un is expected to consolidate power.
North Korea has announced its ruling Workers Party will hold its first congress in 36 years in May.
The North Korean Workers Party congress, which will take place in Pyongyang from May 6, will be only the seventh in the party’s history and the first under leader Kim Jong-un.
The gathering will be closely watched for signs of major policy shifts, movement among senior officials or comment on North Korea’s nuclear program.
The announcement comes as North Korea is believed to be preparing a fifth nuclear test.
North Korea has often timed its controversial tests to coincide with big political occasions.
Its fourth test, in January, was followed by the launch of a satellite.
Both were violations of existing sanctions and resulted in the UN imposing further measures limiting trade and contact with North Korea.
The last North Korean congress was in October 1980, before the current leader Kim Jong-un was born.
The congress lasted four days and among other issues saw Kim Jong-il formally named as the intended successor to then leader Kim Il-sung.
Expectation has been growing for months that the leadership was about to announce the seventh congress.
The statement from North Korea’s KCNA news agency on April 27 gave no details of the event, and did not specify how long it would last.
However, it is widely expected that Kim Jong-un will use the party’s congress to both reinforce his role as Supreme Leader and to push his agenda of economic development coupled with nuclear progress.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on April 26 that North Korea had finished preparations for its fifth nuclear test and could carry it out it any time.
North Korea also claimed last week to have used “cold launch” technology to fire a missile from a submarine, while South Korean officials say it also appears to be preparing another test launch of its medium-range Musudan ballistic missile.
President Barack Obama has rejected North Korea’s proposal to halt nuclear tests if the US ceases its annual military exercises with South Korea.
On April 24, Barack Obama told reporters that the US did not take such a proposal seriously and that Pyongyang would “have to do better than that”.
North Korean foreign minister Ri Su-yong made the offer in a rare interview.
Annual military drills conducted by the US and South Korea routinely inflames tensions with North Korea.
Ri Su-yong’s comments came as North Korea said it fired a ballistic missile from a submarine off its eastern coast.
The UN condemned the test, which it called a “serious violation” of past resolutions aimed at curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
International sanctions have been stepped up in the wake of several controversial nuclear and missile tests by North Korea.
The latest allegedly took place last week, with North Korea claiming to have used “cold launch” technology to fire a missile from a submarine, where it is expelled using gas pressure.
North Korea also conducted its fourth nuclear test with a hydrogen bomb in January sparking worldwide condemnation, and claimed last month that it has developed nuclear warheads small enough to fit on ballistic missiles, though experts have disputed such claims.
Analysts believe that North Korea may be gearing up for a fifth nuclear test as a show of strength ahead of the Workers’ Party Congress, the first since 1980.
According to South Korean sources, North Korea appears to have fired a ballistic missile from a submarine off its eastern coast.
It is not clear whether the test was authentic, and if it was, whether it will be considered a success by North Korea.
A successful test would be significant because submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) are hard to detect.
The latest test comes as North Korea gears up for a rare and significant party congress next month.
North Korea is banned from nuclear tests and activities that use ballistic missile technology under UN sanctions dating back to 2006.
A South Korea defense ministry spokesman said: “North Korea launched a projectile which was believed to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile around 6:30 pm in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) near the north-eastern port of Sinpo.”
“We are keeping close tabs on the North Korean military and maintaining a full defence posture,” he said.
North Korea has yet to report the test in its own official media. The secretive state has claimed to have carried out similar tests before but some doubt those claims.
The US says photographs supposedly showing one launch in December were manipulated and others think North Korea has fired missiles from submerged platforms, but not submarines.
Regarding this latest test, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile travelled about 19 miles, whereas a typical SLBM can travel at least 186 miles.
North Korea has so far conducted four nuclear tests – the first one in October 2006 and the latest in January this year.
The UN Security Council responded to the latter by imposing its strongest sanctions to date over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
In March 2016, North Korea said it had developed nuclear warheads small enough to fit on ballistic missiles, although experts cast doubt on the claims.
Analysts believe North Korea may be gearing up for a fifth test as a show of strength ahead of the North Korean Workers’ Party Congress, the first since 1980.
A North Korean missile test was conducted off the country’s east coast on April 15.
However, the launch appears to have failed, the US and South Korean officials say.
The rocket has not yet been identified but is suspected to have been a previously untested “Musudan” medium-range ballistic missile.
The launch coincided with the birthday of North Korea’s founding leader, Kim Il-sung.
It also comes amid particularly high tension on the Korean peninsula.
South Korea’s Yonhap national news agency quoted government sources as saying that the missile was a type of intermediate-range ballistic missile known as a Musudan, also called the BM-25.
North Korean forces were seen recently moving two such missiles.
According to the Yonhap report , it would be North Korea’s first Musudan test, and that it may have at least 50 more.
The Musudan is named after the village in North Korea’s northeast where a launch pad is sited.
The rocket has a range of about 1,800 miles, which extends to the US Army base on the Pacific island of Guam, but not as far as the mainland US.
The US said it had tracked the latest launch, but could also not confirm details.
“We call again on North Korea to refrain from actions and rhetoric that further raise tensions in the region and focus instead on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments and obligations,” a State Department official said.
China also criticized what it called “the latest in a string of saber-rattling that, if unchecked, will lead the country to nowhere,” according to the official Xinhua news agency.
North Korea has made a series of threats against the South and the US since the UN imposed some of its toughest ever sanctions on the country.
The move was a response to North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January and its launching of a satellite in February, both of which broke existing sanctions.