When making forecasts about the nature of the future WPK Congress, we mentioned that certain things will become more obvious after the New Year’s speech, delivered by the North Korean leader. For this reason we would like to pay attention to what seemed to us to be the most important in his speech. Since Kim Jong-un is always very serious about his duties as national leader, his New Year’s speech is usually perceived as a sort of foundation for the future. Of course, it should be done carefully; for example, no mention was made of nuclear weapons except in the context of “producing a national means of a military strike, in all their diversity, that can completely suppress an enemy,” which was understood as an indication that no nuclear missile tests were planned in the nearest future. And, lo and behold, they conducted tests.
The long speech of the North Korean leader contained clearly several topics:
Kim Jong-un seriously demonstrates his devotion to his father and grandfather; during the chimes he stayed in the Memorial, where Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are buried. He started the New Year’s speech with New Year’s greetings to his ancestors, and then – all the people of the country. But when talking about the people, he first mentions the army, and then the people. This can be interpreted as the fact that the Songun policy has not been abandoned, and the party and the army are referred to with about the same frequency.
He positioned 2016 as the year of the future Congress, which would “sum up the success of our party in the revolution and construction of socialism, achieved under the wise leadership of great leaders, and draft a project to accelerate the final victory of our revolution”. However, the Congress was later called a historical watershed, therefore certain rhetoric on the “entering a new phase” can be expected.
There is no indication of reforms, but there is a clear demonstration that victory lay ahead. Also, certain changes will be made to the draft documents. The term “socialism” has not been rejected yet. “The goal of our progress is the socialist state of Juche orientation”.Thus, at the Congress any transformations will be referred to as the development of an existing trend, not its replacement.
Self-reliance was highlighted, implying that “bowing down to and reliance on external support is the way to ruin the country.”
It is one of the refrains and disclosed in two aspects, both “like-mindedness
For me it is a very clear indication that Kim sees the danger of social stratification, bureaucratic flaws, and corrupt nomenclature. He placed this problem even ahead of the defence issues. And rightfully so, since the bureaucratic degeneration of the elite of the state could lead to collapse of the system. I dare say that at the upcoming Congress, some personnel renewal may take place under the banner of the fight against corruption.
It seems that Kim understands that the new stage of development of the state will not be without problems: both internal (there are always vulnerable matters in the process of changes, when the old is destroyed, and the new has not yet settled) and external (there are enough forces striving for the collapse of the regime). But the basic principle of management remains unchanged from the time of the Taean system: the party inspires people, and they remove (or move) mountains and fill the sea.
What is the situation with the new talent? Yes, he specifically mentioned the youth and the fact that millions of them have grown up with the right beliefs, and that makes him immensely proud. However, it seems that the high morality still substitutes professionalism:“to give a strong impetus to the approval of the moral atmosphere that creates healthy and civilized way of life in the society.” Using the word “civilized” is interesting, as is the lack of news on the training for use of new technologies abroad; and to me very important is the question of how he will prepare a new generation of talent.
Another interesting detail. Speaking about the country’s defence capacity, Kim noted not only his army, but also the defence industry and internal forces that “should demolish any attempts of class enemies, hostile elements, who are trying to encroach on the revolution leaders, the socialist system, lives and property of the people.” I see it as a sign that the actions of certain forces in rocking the boat have become a systemic problem worth mentioning.
After the greetings and the results of the year, Kim switched to the economics, and started not with the Palace of science and technology, nor with the new district in Pyongyang, but two new hydro power plants. It is important, because the poor economic situation of North Korea is rooted in the economic crisis. He also used the term “economics of knowledge,” which is also popular in the south. I think that the young Kim knows what direction to move in.
The main industrial areas for development were highlighted: power, coal mining, metallurgy, and railway transport. Special attention was paid to fish farming, reforestation, and the environmental protection.
Inter-Korean and international relations
Reunification is “the most urgent and vital task of the nation,” and at the beginning of his speech, Kim expressed his New Year’s greetings to compatriots in the South, which speaks of the unchanged perception of the people of the ROK.
However, we cannot say that Kim somehow changed his attitude to the authorities of the ROK and declared a more peaceful policy. The South Korean authorities are opposed to the inter-Korean dialogue, openly stating takeover and regime change. If they honestly want to improve relations, “they should not support the pointless confrontation between systems, but demonstrate their readiness to” respect the existing agreements, especially three principles of unification (1972) and the Declaration of the North and the South of October 4. And not try to internationalize the issue: “No one grants and cannot grant our nation unification. The entire nation must strongly fight against bowing down, and the corrupt attempts of unification opponents to plead for external assistance.” That is the sticking point of the policy that began in the ROK at the time of Lee Myung-bak.
Given the sharpening of inter-Korean relations in August, it is interesting to refer to the 2015 assessment. It “showed that even a tiniest random incident between the North and the South can turn a spark into war and even into a fire of the total war.” However, the army and the people managed to avert the danger of war and settle the explosive crisis that could be followed by clashes because of serious military and political provocations by hostile forces. So, we are ready for the dialogue, but any provocations will be responded to “with a ruthless, fair, and holy war.” It is noteworthy that Park Geun-hye’s New Year speech was styled in a similar way: we are peaceful people ready for a constructive dialogue, but our armoured train is there and ready, and any hostile provocations will be answered with adequate and tough measures.
Anti-Americanism is still in the trend. The United States is hindering unification. Their strategy for domination in Asia could turn the Korean peninsula into a hot spot of tension, they refuse to sign a peace treaty and staged a “noisy conspiratorial trick with human rights.”
Neither Russia nor China was specifically mentioned; however, it was noted that the party and the government will strengthen the “solidarity with the peoples of the world… with all the countries that respect the sovereignty of our country and treat us in a friendly way.”
Of course, the leader of North Korea showed himself inclined to unexpected steps, but the analysis of his speech demonstrates that, even understanding the needs for change, he does not intend to abandon the fundamental principles of the North Korean state.
Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D, Chief Research Fellow of the Center for Korean Studies, Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.