PYONGYANG – North Korea on Monday expelled a BBC journalist it had detained days earlier for allegedly “insulting the dignity” of the country, while it continued to keep other foreign media away from the first-in-decades ruling party congress they had been invited to attend.
Rupert Wingfield-Hayes was not among the scores of foreign media covering the Workers’ Party congress; he had covered an earlier trip of Nobel laureates and had been scheduled to leave Friday. Instead, he was stopped at the airport, detained and questioned.
O Ryong Il, secretary-general of the North’s National Peace Committee, said the journalist’s news coverage distorted facts and “spoke ill of the system and the leadership of the country.” He said Wingfield-Hayes wrote an apology, was being expelled Monday and would never be admitted into the country again.
The BBC says Wingfield-Hayes was detained Friday along with producer Maria Byrne and cameraman Matthew Goddard, and that all were taken to the Pyongyang airport.
Kim Jong-Un Delivers 3-Hour Speech
More than 100 foreign journalists are in the capital for North Korea’s first party congress in 36 years, though they have been prevented from actually covering the proceedings and the more than 3,400 delegates. They’ve had to depend on reports from state media, which reports event hours later or even the next day.
The Korean Central News Agency said Monday that the congress was to enter its fourth day. On Sunday, the congress adopted a resolution to strive toward a more prosperous and modern economy and stressed that it will push for the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula, but warned that if Seoul “opts for a war,” its military will mercilessly wipe out all opposition.
Also Sunday, leader Kim Jong Un delivered a three-hour speech to delegates to review the country’s situation and progress since the last congress was held in 1980, before Kim was born.
In his speech, Kim announced a five-year economic plan, the first one made public since the 1980s, when his grandfather, “eternal president” and national founder Kim Il Sung, was in power.
The speech, in which he said North Korea was a responsible nuclear state that will not use its nuclear weapons first unless its sovereignty was threatened, underscores Kim’s dual focus on building up the military while trying to kick-start the North’s economy, which has seen some growth in recent years but remains hamstrung by international sanctions over its nuclear program.
Walking a fine balance between the two, he said the North is willing to develop friendly relations even with countries that had in the past been hostile toward it â€” a possible overture to the United States.
Journalists taken to Wire Factory
Officials have dutifully kept the foreign media busy with trips around the showcase capital to show them the places it most wants them to see â€” a maternity hospital with seemingly state-of-the-art equipment, a wire-making factory where managers say salaries and production are both going up, the humble birthplace of national founder Kim Il Sung, which has been converted into a sort of museum-park with a large “funfair” right next door.
Instead of covering votes and speeches, reporters have been taken on the subway and given a ride on the newest train, which North Korean officials claim to have developed themselves. They’ve been shown a farm, and have been taken around an apartment in a new complex of high-rises, government offices and shops on Scientists’ Street.
On Monday, the media buses headed off to a silk factory.
The selected sites clearly, and by design, shed little light on what life in the capital, or the country, is for the average North Korean.
There are indications that North Korean officials had considered giving visiting journalists some access to larger events than a trip to a wire factory. At one point they were told on very short notice to dress nicely, then were bused to a conference hall where rows of black limousines used by top party officials were parked. After waiting impatiently to be allowed in, they were told simply and without explanation: “The program has changed. Go back and have lunch.”
It’s possible the “golden chance” may yet to materialize â€” the congress is expected to continue for a couple more days. In the meantime, foreign journalists’ main opportunity to cover the event will come through the televisions in the hotel media room.
No Plans to End Nuclear Program
KimÂ made clear on Sunday that the North has no intention of unilaterally giving up its nuclear program or bending to international pressure aimed at forcing its regime into decline or collapse.
Kim said North Korea “will sincerely fulfil its duties for the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and work to realize the denuclearization of the world,” but that statement is predicated on other countries â€” again, mainly the United States â€” also giving up their weapons, a highly unlikely scenario.
On South Korea, Kim Jong Un stressed the need for talks to ease cross-border animosities and emphasized reunification under a federal system, a decades-old proposal that would largely keep the North’s brand of socialism intact that has received no traction with Seoul.
“But if the South Korean authorities opt for a war, persisting in the unreasonable ‘unification of social systems,’ we will turn out in the just war to mercilessly wipe out the anti-reunification forces and achieve the historic cause of national reunification, long-cherished desire of all Koreans,” he said.