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*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

N. Korea's Workers' Party Politburo Sets Up Powerful Sports Commission

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's ruling Workers' Party held its expanded meeting of the political bureau on Nov. 4 and decided to establish a new powerful organization overseeing all sports activities of the socialist country.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported the enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK) adopted its decision to set up the new commission composed of power elite of the party, cabinet, military and even the social and labor organizations.

   Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was named the chairman of the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission composed of the 37 members of the power elite from the country's various state organizations.

   The WPK decision said that the state sports commission would be inaugurated to control all sports activities in a unified manner.

   "Present there were members of the Presidium of the Political Bureau and members and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee," the KCNA reported. "Present there as observers were leading officials of party and armed forces organs, Cabinet, ministries and national institutions related to sports."

   In the WPK decision, the North's news agency said, "To put the DPRK (North Korea) on the level of a sports power is an important work to boost the national capabilities in every way, demonstrate the indomitable spirit and dignity of Songun (military-first) Korea to the whole world and make all service personnel and people push ahead with the building of a thriving socialist nation full of great national pride and self-esteem."

   The WPK unveiled a far-reaching plan to turn North Korea, a socialist political and military power, into an economic power and sports power, indicated the concrete direction and ways of carrying out the plan, and saw to it that measures were taken to bring about a radical change in the physical culture and sports of the country by making the sports fever rage across the country, according to the decision.

   The commission's work includes increasing social concern over physical culture and sports, making it mainstream and part of daily life, putting the sports science and technology on a world level and training reserve sports persons on a long-term basis, strengthening the training of sports players and national teams training for international games, vitalizing domestic sports games and ensuring proper materials are supplied to sports programs, according to the decision.

   The decision specified that physical culture and sports guidance commissions be organized in provinces, cities, counties and armed forces institutions.

   Under Jang Song-thaek's chairmanship, the sports guidance commission will now have three vice chairmen -- Ro Tu-chol, Choe Pu-il and Ri Yong-su. Jang Son-gang was named the commission's secretary general. Also named as members of the commission were key officials of the country such as Kim Ki-nam, Choe Thae-bok, Kim Yang-gon, Kim Yong-il, Kwak Pom-gi Mun Kyong-dok and others.

   The meeting of the Political Bureau expressed belief that the party, the army and the people would embrace the pursuit of sports "with enthusiasm to strengthen the might of Songun Korea in every way, display dignity and indomitable merit of the nation to the world and push forward the building of a thriving socialist nation."

   The expanded meeting of the Political Bureau was convened on the occasion of the 43rd anniversary of Kim Il-sung's "historic speech" at the National Meeting of Athletes on Nov. 4, 1969 on developing the physical culture and sports into a movement that included all people, the KCNA reported.

   North Korea experts in Seoul evaluated the WPK central committee's decision as very extraordinary in that the socialist country is determined to emerge as a sports power that is almost on par with its political, military and economic might.

   Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow of the Sejong Institute, a private think tank near Seoul, explained that the commission's chairman Jang Song-thaek will have now secured a more powerful position than the Supreme People's Assembly's Presidium led by Kim Yong-nam, and the Cabinet steered by Premier Choe Yong-rim.

   In this sense, Jang has now secured the No. 2 power man in the North after his nephew and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

   But other experts say that given the status of the WPK's political bureau, there might have been very important issues discussed at the meeting such as the economic and other political affairs. Despite the speculation, the North only revealed the nonpolitical sectors related to the sports work this time.

   The North held its previous enlarged meeting of the political bureau in June last year to discuss the results of then leader Kim Jong-il's China trip from May 20 to 27. According to South Korean officials, the North last convened its expanded meeting of the political bureau back in December 1981, chaired by the North's late founder Kim Il-sung.

   Under the commission's decision, the North Korean regime will expand the investment in the sports projects and related propaganda activities in the future.

   Earlier this year, North Korean athletes enjoyed near-record-breaking performances at the London Olympics over the summer and they were feted with a heroes' welcome in Pyongyang,
North Korea won four gold medals in London, tying its record for most titles won at a single Olympics, set in Barcelona in 1992. The North, which also won a bronze medal each in weightlifting and wrestling, ranked 20th in the medal standings in London.

   But other critics say the impoverished North Korea has no room to put energy and money into the sports sector. The North's economy is beset by serious shortages of electricity and raw materials, and it grapples with persistent serious food shortages. International sanctions imposed to curb its missile and nuclear programs have discouraged foreign investment.

   Since Kim Jong-un took power in December, the socialist country has shown signs of notable steps to overcome poverty despite the international isolation.

   In recent months, North Korea is known to have undertaken some agricultural reform called the June 28 measures which allow some North Korean farmers who have long been required to turn most of their harvest over to the state to instead keep their surplus crops to sell or barter in what could be the most significant economic change enacted since Kim came to power.

   The North is also making strenuous efforts to lure foreign investment specifically from China and Russia. North Korea has economic joint development projects with China of special economic zones in the North -- Rason and Hwanggumphyong-Wihwa Islands.

   In August, Jang Song-thaek, the powerful uncle of leader Kim, visited China leading an entourage of economy-related officials and the two countries agreed to accelerate their joint development of the economic zones.