By Alex Jensen
SEOUL (AA) – North Korea ushered in a new era Tuesday, albeit with dictator Kim Jong-un still very much in charge after the close of Pyongyang's first party congress in nearly four decades.
As the North's media went through the motions of announcing Kim as the new chairman of the Workers' Party (WPK), the move cemented a shift from the authoritarian state's military-first rule under his late father Kim Jong-il.
The junior Kim had gone into the four-day congress already in charge of the WPK as first secretary, while also holding numerous other posts such as supreme military commander.
"The Pyongyang mass rally and procession began at Kim Il-sung Square Tuesday in celebration of the successful 7th Congress of the WPK," the state-run KCNA news agency reported.
Kim Il-sung was North Korea's founder and oversaw the 6th WPK Congress in 1980.
Based on developments over the last four days, his grandson and current leader Kim Jong-un is returning the country to a double emphasis on economic and nuclear development.
After several years of frosty ties with traditional ally Beijing, Kim earned a message of congratulations upon assuming the WPK chairmanship Monday from his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
Xi had just days earlier repeated his vow to comply with new sanctions against Pyongyang -- the latest of the United Nations' punitive measures were imposed in March following North Korea's fourth ever nuclear test and subsequent rocket launch.
The Chinese president sent his congratulatory note despite Kim's defiant insistence during the congress that the North is a "responsible" nuclear state.
South Korea has been less charitable over the last few days, and a foreign ministry spokesperson told reporters Tuesday that Pyongyang would have to choose between nuclear weapons and the needs of its people.
"We will continue to impose sanctions and pressure on it so that it can wake up from the illusion of nuclear development and show its willingness to denuclearize through actions," local news agency Yonhap quoted the spokesperson saying.
Seoul has been on guard for a further North Korean nuclear test in line with the congress, but so far Pyongyang has kept onlookers guessing over satellite imagery of its Punggye-ri test site.
The North did pull some surprises, however, when releasing the names of party members of various ranks.
Former army chief Ri Yong-gil -- supposedly executed based on South Korean intelligence earlier this year -- has returned to political life after being named among alternate members of the WPK's political bureau.
Party secretary and key aide to the leader Choe Ryong-hae also seems to have put his alleged loss of favor behind him.
Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un's younger sister was among 129 central committee members, having apparently failed to rise to a higher rank as predicted by analysts before the congress.