North Korea Hints at Thaw with Seoul ; in Speech, Leader Urges End to 'Confrontation' with South Korea

By Sang-Hun, Choe | International Herald Tribune, January 2, 2013 | Go to article overview

North Korea Hints at Thaw with Seoul ; in Speech, Leader Urges End to 'Confrontation' with South Korea


Sang-Hun, Choe, International Herald Tribune


In what appeared to be an encouraging gesture to the incoming South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, called for an end to "confrontation" with the South.

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, on Tuesday called for an end to "confrontation" with South Korea in what appeared to be an overture to the incoming South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, as she puts together Seoul's new policy on the North.

North Korea issued a major policy statement on New Year's Day, following a tradition set by Mr. Kim's late grandfather, the North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, and his late father, Kim Jong-il, who died in December 2011, bequeathing the dynastic rule to Mr. Kim.

Kim Jong-un was the first supreme North Korean leader to issue the statement as his personal speech since his grandfather last did so, before his death in 1994. During the rule of his reclusive father, Kim Jong-il, the annual statement -- which laid out policy guidelines for the new year and was studied by all branches of the party, the state and the military -- was issued as a joint editorial of the country's main official media.

Mr. Kim's speech, which was broadcast through the North's state- run television and radio stations, was seen as another sign that he was trying to imitate his grandfather Kim Il-sung, who in life was considered a more people-friendly leader than Kim Jong-il and is still widely revered among North Koreans.

Although Mr. Kim inherited his father's key policies, outside analysts see him as trying to distance himself from his ruling style. Kim Jong-il was more feared than respected by his people, and his rule was marked by a famine.

In his speech, Mr. Kim echoed themes of previous New Year's messages, emphasizing that improving the living standards of North Koreans and rejuvenating agriculture and light industry were among the impoverished country's main priorities.

But he revealed no details of any planned economic policy changes. He mentioned only a need to "improve economic leadership and management" and "spread useful experiences created in various work units."

Since July, various news outlets in South Korea have reported that Mr. Kim's new regime has begun carrying out cautious economic incentives aimed at increasing productivity at farms and factories. Some reports said the state was considering letting farmers keep at least 30 percent of their yield; it is believed that they are now allowed to sell only a surplus beyond a government-set quota that is rarely met.

Mr. Kim also vowed to strengthen his country's military, calling for the development of more advanced weapons. But he made no mention of relations with the United States or the international efforts to halt its nuclear weapons program. He simply reiterated that his government was willing to "expand and improve upon friendly and cooperative relationships with all countries friendly to us."

Mr. Kim's speech followed the successful launching of a satellite aboard a long-range rocket in December. North Korean propagandists have since been busy billing the launching as a symbol of what they called the North's soaring technological might and Mr. Kim's peerless leadership. Washington considered it a test of long-range ballistic missile technology and a violation of U. …

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