BEIJING — North Korean diplomats abroad have been told to refrain from traveling and prepare for an “important announcement,” Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper reported Saturday. The report prompted another round of speculation that North Korea’s secretive leader, Kim Jong Il, has died or is incapacitated. The newspaper did not indicate when the announcement might be made. In recent weeks, Pyongyang had denied reports that the 66-year-old Kim was seriously ill after a stroke. When the nation’s founder and father of the present leader, Kim Il Sung, died in 1994, North Korean officials were told to stand by for an important announcement.
But North Korea experts said Saturday that the announcement could be related to other international matters. Pyongyang has been expected for some time to schedule a congress of the ruling Workers’ Party, an event that could be used to announce a new economic policy as well as to clear up uncertainty about the succession of power. The last such event was the sixth party congress in 1980, when Kim Jong Il was officially designated his father’s successor. “They are overdue to hold a party congress to announce a new generation of leaders and a new economic policy,” said Leonid Petrov, a North Korea expert, speaking from Dandong, China, at the border with North Korea.
Rudiger Frank, Professor of East Asian Economy and Society and Vice Director of the East Asian Institute at the University of Vienna, agrees by writing: “What could happen next? For quite some time, the North Korean media have been pointing at the year 2012, the 100th birthday of late Kim Il-sung, the Eternal President, as an important turning point. This could be the year of the long-awaited 7th Party Congress, 32 years after the 6th in 1980. Let’s not forget that this congress had served the purpose of officially introducing Kim Jong-il as the next leader. This time, we could see the Party taking over the role of a church, safeguarding ideology and the leadership of the two “Eternal” leaders, forming or organizing the collective leadership that seems to be the only logical step, and appointing a leader who will not be Great but visible. The recent homage to the Party’s monument could be the first step in the process of announcing this solution; the next Great Leader of North Korea could be Mother Party.” See the full text here…