Seoul: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for an end to the “confrontation” with rival South Korea on Tuesday in what appeared to be an overture to the incoming South Korean President Park Geun-hye as she was cobbling together South Korea's new policy on the North.
North Korea on Tuesday issued a major policy statement on New Year's Day, following a tradition set by Kim's grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, and his father, Kim Jong Il, who died in December 2011.
Kim was the first supreme North Korean leader to issue the statement as his personal speech since his grandfather did so before his death in 1994. During the rule of Kim's reclusive father, the statement—which laid out policy guidelines for the new year—was issued as a joint editorial of the country's main official media.
Kim’s speech on Tuesday, which was broadcast through the North's state-run television and radio stations, was another sign that the young leader was trying to imitate his grandfather, who in life was considered a more people-friendly leader and is still widely revered among North Koreans.
In his speech, Kim echoed themes of previous New Year's messages, emphasizing that improving the living standards of North Koreans and rejuvenating agriculture and light industries were among the country's main priorities. But he revealed no details of any planned economic changes.
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 US or the international efforts to halt its nuclear weapons program.
Kim’s speech followed the successful launching of a long-range rocket in December. North Korea’s propagandists have since been busy billing the launch as a symbol of what they called the North's soaring technological might and Kim’s peerless leadership.
But it was his allusion to relations with South Korea that marked a departure in tone.
“A key to ending the divide of the nation and achieving reunification is to end the situation of confrontation between the North and the South,” Kim said. “A basic precondition to improving North-South relations and advancing national reunification is to honour and implement North-South joint declarations.”
He was referring to two inter-Korean summit agreements, signed in 2000 and 2007, when then South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun were pursuing a “Sunshine Policy” of reconciliation and economic cooperation with North Korea and met his father in Pyongyang.
As a result of those agreements, billions of dollars of South Korean investment, aid and trade flowed into the North. Billions more were promised in investments in shipyards and factory parks, as the South Korean leaders believed that economic good will was the best way of encouraging North Korea to shed its isolation and hostility while reducing the economic gap between the two Koreas.
But that warming of ties ended when conservatives came to power in Seoul with the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak in 2008. When Lee was president-elect, North Korea offered a similar overture as Tuesday’s. But Lee suspended any large aid or investment barring a significant progress toward dismantling the North’s nuclear weapons programs, and inter-Korean relations spiralled down, further aggravated by the North’s shelling of a South Korean island in 2010.
©2013/The New York Times