If we analyze the last ten years of North Korean New Year’s statements, unprecedented parts to the 2010 Statement reveal themselves. Even the title carries a different nuance;
“Bring about a decisive change in the people’s lives by accelerating once again light industry and agriculture this year, as we look to the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Party!”
The key phrase is “by accelerating once again light industry and agriculture;” “once again” just means a continuation of the policies which led to the 150- and 100-Day Battles of 2009.
In any case, as the title shows clearly, the core concern of the North Korean regime is food security. Although the regime has been worried about food for a long time, this is the first time it has appeared in the title of a New Year’s Statement.
The most common words and phrases in statement titles of previous years have been “construction of a strong and prosperous state,” “military-first revolution,” “revolutionary great leap,” and “socialist principles,” while “light industry and agriculture” has been treated as attendant details behind traditional socialist priorities such as heavy industry.
One problem among many is that North Korea’s heavy industry-centric economic policy is distorted heavily in the direction of the munitions industry.
In 1995-1998, during the March of Tribulation, notions of valuing light industry and agriculture occasionally appeared in New Year’s statements because the people needed comforting when there was nothing in the grain stores and nothing available in state-run shops.
The only difference from that time is what North Korea calls its “great achievement;” becoming a de facto nuclear power through two nuclear tests. Since North Korea has already become an ideologically strong state thanks to Juche ideology and the Military-first political line, and also a strong military state due to its possession of nuclear weapons, the only thing the North now believes it needs is to become an economically strong state.
Therefore, the emphasis on light industry and agriculture can be taken as partly symbolic of Pyongyang’s pride in its two nuclear tests and long-range missile launches.
The other expressions which stand out this year are “Let’s greatly advance the people’s lives,” and “Let’s expand foreign markets and engage actively in foreign trade activities.” These give us an indication of the North’s future policy priorities.
However, the problem is that the common editorial is just words and slogans; it contains no practical ways to advance the lives of the people and suggests no changes in methods.
In terms of agriculture, the statement asserts, “The Party’s seed revolution decree, double-cropping decree, potato farming revolution decree, bean farming decree and other farming revolution decrees must be carried out successfully, and innovation must be used to expand agricultural production. The Juche Agricultural Method should be completely followed and new farming methods such as organic farming should also be adopted.”
Yet the fact is that North Korea can solve its food problems only by reforming the collective farming system and increasing swiftly levels of private farming; farming methods are not the key to food security in the country. That is, the necessary steps are not to be found in advanced farming techniques, but in thoroughgoing reform of the farming system. Unsurprisingly, there are no comments on farming system reform in the editorial.
Although the Statement declares, “Materials for light industrial production must be guaranteed on time,” the fact is that the authorities cannot guarantee them “on time,” or indeed at all, due to infrastructure problems such as energy and transportation shortages.
Another comment, “The modernization of the railways must be aggressively carried out by the whole,” has been reiterated for several decades without any notable success.
Therefore, the fact we have to keep in mind is that the New Year’s Statement is in reality not a statement of the nation’s aims for the year, but propaganda to try and circumscribe popular complaint.
It is too much to expect significant changes to official policies just because “light industry and agriculture” or “improvement to people’s lives” are mentioned in the New Year’s Statement!
The only thing we can predict is a slight change in the food situation. For the Kim regime, there is no other solution at this stage but foreign aid.