In the New Year’s address delivered by Kim Jong Un, emphasis was placed on easing the hostile inter-Korean relations and implementation of the June 15 inter-Korean joint declaration.
An intriguing point of this year’s speech was its format, as Kim Jong Un’s delivery of the New Year’s Address was televised -- a rare occurrence, considering the last one to be televised was that given by Kim Il Sung in 1994, some nineteen years ago. The Korean Central News Agency and Korean Central Television broadcasted this year’s speech.
The highlight of the speech was Kim Jong Un’s declaration, “To end the state of division of the country and achieve reunification, we must remove confrontations between North and South.” He added, “Respecting and thoroughly implementing the north-south joint declarations is a basic prerequisite to promoting the inter-Korean relations and hastening the country’s reunification.”
This can be interpreted as an effort by the North as a hopeful message to the newly elected South Korean president Park Geun-hye for improved relations and to urge her administration to depart from her predecessor’s North Korea policy and implement the June 15 and October 4 Joint Declarations.
In the 2008 New Year address, North Korea made a similar statement encouraging the then Lee Myong-bak administration to fulfill the joint declarations.
As for North Korea’s foreign relations, Kim stressed that it will expand and develop relations with those countries that are friendly and cooperative to North Korea and affirmed to “strive actively to realize independence in the world and safeguard peace and stability in the region.” However, there was no mention of North Korea’s position on the nuclear issue or US-DPRK relations.
As for the economy, Kim stressed that “the entire Party, the whole country and all the people should wage an all-out struggle this year to effect a turnaround in building an economic giant and improving the people’s standard of living.” The importance of economy and the improvement of the lives of its people were reiterated and agriculture and light industry was named as frontline industries.
Similarly, last year’s New Year joint editorial called for revolution in light industry and agriculture. This year’s message stressed that economic guidance and management must be improved to reflect the realities of development. It also stressed that the North “hold fast to the socialist economic system of our own style, steadily improve and perfect the methods of economic management on the principle of encouraging the working masses to fulfill their responsibility and role befitting the masters of production, and generalize on an extensive scale the good experiences gained at several units.”
In 2012, North Korea announced its ‘June 28 policy’. There is speculation that changes are taking place in various parts of the country to pilot changes in its economic system.
The New Year address also emphasizes the military. “The military might of a country represents its national strength; only when it builds up its military might in every way can it develop into a thriving country and defend the security and happiness of its people.” Kim Jong Un also emphasized that “The sector of defense industry should develop in larger numbers sophisticated military hardware of our own style that can contribute to implementing the Party’s military strategy.”
South Korean government showed a lukewarm response to North Korea’s New Year address. While the format of the address was relatively novel in that it was televised, most North Korea watchers see the content and format of the joint editorial as similar to past addresses. Kim Jong Un placed heavy emphasis on the economic sector, but the method of improvement revealed no major changes from the current policy. Likewise, no concrete measures were suggested for the improvement of inter-Korean relations except for a general suggestion to open the doors for dialogue.