In a rare New Year’s Day address broadcasted on state television, North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-Un vowed on Tuesday to make a "radical turnaround" for his country’s economic policies in 2013; pledging also to improve relations with their southern compatriots, as part of a longer term view towards reunification.
Kim, who was making his sixth public address since assuming power last year, added that improving the living standards of North Koreans was among the country’s main priorities for the new year; though he failed to reveal any specific plans on how to achieve this, apart from promising to develop coal-mining, electric power and metallurgical industries and rail transport in order to “provide a firm springboard for the building of an economic giant.”
“The building of an economic giant is the most important task that comes to the fore in the present stage of building a thriving socialist country,” Kim said, as cited by Bloomberg.
"Let us bring about a radical turn in the building of an economic giant with the same spirit and mettle as were displayed in conquering space,” he added, referencing the country’s successful, but highly controversial, satellite launch last month.
In his 4,112-word address, which also marked Kim’s first public speech since the election of Park Geun-hye as South Korea’s next president two weeks ago, the North Korean leader appeared to extend an olive branch to his counterpart, calling for an end to the confrontation between the two neighbours.
"An important issue in putting an end to the division of the country and achieving its reunification is to remove confrontation between the North and the South," Kim said, as cited by AFP. "The past records of inter-Korean relations show that confrontation between fellow countrymen leads to nothing but war.”
Kim’s speech however had no mention of the United States or the North’s nuclear weapons program, focusing rather on the nation’s domestic issues, including the “dynamic struggle to boost [agricultural] production.”
John Delury, a North Korea analyst at Yonsei University in Seoul, told The Guardian that "If Kim Jong-un is going to engineer a shift from 'military-first' to 'it's the economy, stupid', he is going to need Seoul's encouragement.”
But while incoming South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has already indicated a willingness to hold a summit meeting with Kim Jong-un, Park has vowed to stick to her predecessor’s hard-line policy on large-scale investment to the north, insisting that economic investment must be preceded by the “building of trust” through progress in curbing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Kim Young Hwan, a North Korean analyst and activist now living in the South, also warned that North Korea has tended to dither over their policies in the past, and expressed caution over any possible economic reform.
"They have been going back and forth over policy; bringing out a policy of a broadly reformist nature, then following that with an anti-reformist one.”
Nevertheless, the New Year did mark one concrete sign of change in the country, as North Koreans managed to enjoy their first-ever major New Year's Eve celebration, with cannon fire and fireworks at midnight.