Kim Jong Eun was quick to impress the outside world on New Year’s Day, appearing on television to make the kind of New Year’s TV and radio address that was last seen prior to the death of national founder Kim Il Sung in 1994. However, although optimistic analysis has followed in some quarters, the address appears to contain little more than empty words.
According to the Ministry of Unification in Seoul, “Overall there was no new policy; they stuck to the existing line.”
In last year’s New Year’s Joint Editorial, the Kim Jong Il era equivalent of this morning’s address, a North Korean regime conscious of the risks of succession emphasized little more than the need to adhere closely to the last instructions of Kim Jong Il as a means of promoting social stability. Kim Jong Il’s name was mentioned a total of 34 times in that editorial.
This year, Kim Jong Eun focused on propagating the accomplishments of his first year, predominantly the December 12th rocket launch success, which he set up as an example for all sectors of the North Korean economy to promote growth. He even put forward a rocket-inspired slogan for 2013, calling for overall economic development based on the “spirit that conquered the universe.”
Cho Bong Hyun, a researcher with IBK’s economic research arm, told Daily NK today, “The core characteristic of this year’s New Year’s Address was emphasizing the Unha-3 launch and linking it to the economy. Kim Jong Eun seems to be planning to use the success of the rocket launch as a tool with which to vitalize the economy.”
However, the list of major achievements mentioned in the address included the military parade that marked the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth, the completion of Huichon Dam and its affiliated power plant, and the construction of athletic facilities around Pyongyang. It is hard not to regard such projects as indicators of North Korea’s fundamental economic weakness rather than strength.
Kim made references to reunification and improving relations with South Korea as well, but did not appear to offer a compromise position that could spur dialogue. Indeed, he appeared also to confirm that Kim Jong Il’s military-first political line is set to continue in 2013 and on into Kim Jong Eun’s rule.
It will be interesting to see how the North Korean authorities will approach study of this year’s address. During the Kim Jong Il era, people had to memorize the New Year’s Joint Editorial word for word, and were tested on their level of knowledge of its contents.