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Northeast Asia Peace Initiative

Will North Korea Focus on Economic Revival in the New Year?

Instead of issuing a newspaper editorial, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and appeared on national TV to give a New Year’s Day speech on the need to bolster the economy and also to reunify the Koreas, warning that confrontation only leads to war.

While reunification did not happen during his lifetime as he had hoped, the late founder of UPF, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, strove to find ways to reunify his homeland of Korea. He met North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, whom he embraced as a brother in 1991. Rev. Moon funded an automobile assembly plant in North Korea, Pyeong Hwa Motors, in 1999, which continued to operate until its closure in 2012. Three hundred tons of flour were donated to children and other recipients in Jeongu, North Korea the birthplace of Rev. Moon, according to Yonhap News Agency. UPF-Europe has sent three containers of donated medical equipment and supplies to help equip a children’s hospital in North Korea.

“The most significant thing about Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Address is that he gave it in person broadcast on TV, rather than it being published as an editorial in the state and party newspapers as was the case under Kim Jong Il,” wrote Dr. Mark P. Barry, advisor to UPF's Office of Peace and Security Affairs in Washington DC, USA. “The last North Korean leader to give the New Year’s Address in person was his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, in 1994, with whom he bears a resemblance. So, the underlying message, both domestically and internationally, is that Kim Jong Un’s hold on power is firm and stable after one year in leadership (he turns 30 on January 8, 2013). However, despite foreign press coverage that overplayed the import of Kim’s statements directed toward the South, there was little new in his prepared remarks. It overlapped in content with the previous three New Year’s addresses, but such continuity is to be expected.”

In his address published by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) Kim Jong Un promoted an urgent need for radical transformation of the North Korean economy. He said, “We should bring about a radical turn in the building of an economic giant on the strength of science and technology by fanning the flames of the industrial revolution in the new century…Like the satellite scientists who conquered outer space we should wage a dynamic campaign to push back the frontiers of science and technology so as to develop the country’s overall science and technology to the world’s standards as soon as possible.”

Following this declaration for the need to “improve economic guidance and management as demanded by the developing reality” Google Inc.’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, will travel to North Korea during the month of January. While Google’s intentions in North Korea are not clear, this visit may be a sign of Pyongyang’s growing desire to engage with the outside world according to the Associated Press, which reported that “the trip was a ‘private, humanitarian mission’ together with former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a seasoned envoy, and Dr. K.A. ‘Tony’ Namkung, a Korea expert with long ties to North Korea.”

Kim Jong Un also made references to reunification and improving relations with South Korea as well. Dr. Barry noted, “The North is serious when it says that South Korea should conduct its policies toward the North in accord with the June 2000 and October 2007 inter-Korean summit agreements, which the outgoing president of the Republic of Korea has chosen to ignore. It’s possible that president-elect Geun-hye Park will use those agreements as a springboard to improve relations with the North. After all, her father, President Park Chung Hee, was partner in the very first inter-Korean agreement of July 1972, which both Koreas today acknowledge — along with the 1992 Basic Agreement — as the bedrock of inter-Korean relations.”

Nothing that Rev. Moon promised in numerous prophetic speeches during the last two years of his life that 2013 will bring a subtle but important and positive change in the global cultural atmosphere, Dr. Barry wrote that Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s address could be an indicator of a new readiness for the two Koreas to find ways to permanently ease tensions, cooperate, and provide the basis for reunification.

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