Prospects for more peace
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un devoted most of his 29-minute televised New Year’s address to promises of reviving the local economy. Making the New Year’s address on TV for the fourth year in a row since he became leader after his father died, Kim vowed to concentrate resources on building a strong economy and bringing about dramatic improvements in living standards for the people. “Our party places the lives of the people as the top priority among millions of state affairs,” he declared.
North Korea’s Workers’ Party will hold its seventh congress, the first to be held in 36 years, in May. To cement the hereditary control of the third generation of the Kim family, Kim Jong-un must stabilize the lives of his people by improving living standards. Unlike in his previous addresses, he did not mention his policy of simultaneously pursuing nuclear development and economic strengthening. This also suggests a shift in Pyongyang’s policy to improve ties with the rest of the world, whose help it desperately needs to improve a local economy that has been battered by years of international sanctions. The North Korean economy has shown fragile recovery through easing of state controls to allow private trading activities in marketplaces and incentives in farming and industrial sites. But without opening up its closed economy, progress could be limited.
Kim was not as assertive as last year in suggesting a breakthrough in inter-Korean ties, but he nevertheless emphasized he will make “aggressive” endeavors to improve bilateral relations. He urged Seoul not to ruin the dialogue and criticized Seoul’s unification policy and joint military actions with the United States. The two Koreas will have to become more proactive and flexible if they want to bring about new momentum in bilateral ties this year.
President Park Geun-hye expressed hope for peace on the Korean Peninsula. In his New Year’s address, Kim said he would be willing to meet with anyone to talk about peaceful unification. This year is the president’s last chance to generate a turning point in inter-Korean ties during her five-year tenure. We sincerely hope this year will pave the way for lasting peace on this land.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 2, Page 26