Kim Jong-un stresses the economy in address

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Kim Jong-un stresses the economy in address

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un placed priority on economic growth in a New Year’s address broadcast on Friday, a departure from previous years when the country’s military and ruling party were emphasized.

The renewed stress on economic growth was obvious as Kim laid out a blueprint for economic development before he touched on the subject of the military and political objectives in his 29-minute address, which was televised at 12:30 p.m. on Friday.

“The country must mobilize every bit of its strength to realize economic development and improvement of people’s livelihoods to make a new turnaround,” Kim said, wearing glasses before a flag symbolizing the Workers’ Party.

Kim pointed out the need to expand and modernize electricity capacity, saying the country must “mobilize all national strength to resolve electricity shortages.”

“The number of times North Korea’s ‘military-first’ policy was mentioned in New Year’s addresses fell to two times this year from four in 2015, three in 2014, six in 2013 and 17 times in 2012,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the security think tank Sejong Institute. “The reduced number correlates with the Kim Jong-un regime’s stronger emphasis on the economy compared to military and political affairs.”

The need for the North to find momentum for economic growth comes as it prepares to host a congress of the Workers’ Party in May for the first time in 36 years. Pyongyang is expected to feel pressure to showcase economic achievements clinched since Kim took power in late 2011 at the upcoming seventh party congress.

On inter-Korean relations, Kim said the North would continue its efforts to improve bilateral ties and open dialogue. But his rhetoric fell short of an address last year in which he said he could agree to “highest-level” talks between the two sides under the right circumstances, which was interpreted to mean that he was open to meeting with President Park Geun-hye, which would have been his first meeting with the South Korean leader.

In the Friday address, Kim said, “We will sit down with anyone to discuss issues of the nation, such as reunification, if they are willing to achieve solidarity, peace and reunification of the Korean people.”

Kim didn’t mention his nuclear program, which raised speculation that he was trying to placate neighboring countries like South Korea and China, and also the United States, for improved ties with the international community.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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