North Korea's leader has used a rare New Year’s address to announce a new focus on improving the country’s economy. He also said he would seek to end the North’s decades-old confrontation with the South.
Kim Jong Un, who came to office just over a year ago, following the death of his predecessor and father, Kim Jong Il, said in the nationally televised speech that the coming year would be marked by "great creations and changes" in the country's economy.
"The entire party, the whole country and all the people should wage an all-out struggle this year to effect a turnaround in building an economic giant and improving the people's standard of living," he said.
However, he provided no details on how this should be achieved. North Korea has long been in dire economic straits, in large part because it ploughs much of its output into an ambitious missile and nuclear program. A series of United Nations sanctions imposed over North Korea's nuclear program also weighs heavily on the country's economy.
Kim used the speech to praise North Korean scientists for the successful launch of a long-range missile last month, which drew widespread criticism abroad. He also gave no indication that he planned to soften the "military first" policy, which was introduced by his father.
"The military might of a country represents its national strength. Only when it builds up its military might in every way can it develop into a thriving country," he said.
Reconciliation with Seoul
At the same time though, he struck a conciliatory tone towards South Korea, with which the North technically has remained at war since a truce ended the fighting in their 1950-53 armed conflict.
"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. "The past records of inter-Korean relations show that confrontation between fellow countrymen leads to nothing but war."
Here too, though, there was no indication as to just how the North Korean leader would seek to reduce tensions.
The speech will be carefully analyzed in the South, which elected its first woman president just two weeks ago.
During the election campaign, conservative president-elect, Park Geun Hye called for stronger engagement with Pyongyang, in contrast with her predecessor, Lee Myung Bak, who took a harder line against the North.
Kim's speech was the first such New Year's address since one made by his grandfather Kim Il Sung in 1994, the year he died. In the years since, any such address had come in the form of an editorial in the state newspaper.
pfd/kms (AFP, Reuters, dpa)