NORTH KOREAN LEADER Kim Jong-Un has called for a “radical turnabout” in his impoverished country’s economy, in a rare New Year’s address that also appeared to offer an olive branch to South Korea.
Kim’s speech, broadcast on state television, was the first of its kind for 19 years, since the death of his grandfather and the North’s founding president Kim Il-Sung.
Kim’s father and the country’s previous ruler, Kim Jong-Il, never made a major address to his people.
The year 2013 will be one of “great creations and changes in which a radical turnabout will be effected”, Kim said, adding that “the building of an economic giant is the most important task” facing the country.
Praising the success of the country’s space scientists in launching a long-range rocket last month, Kim said a similar national effort was now needed on the economic front.
“The entire [Worker's] 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.
But he offered no specifics for how this might be achieved by the isolated state, which is already under multiple sanctions and relies on its sole major ally China for 70 per cent of its foreign trade.
‘Military first’ policy left country struggling
When Kim Jong-Il died in December 2011 he left a country in dire economic straits — the result of a “military first” policy that fed an ambitious missile and nuclear programme at the expense of a malnourished population.
Despite a rise in staple food output, daily life for millions is an ongoing struggle with under-nutrition, according to a recent World Food Programme report.
The address will be closely scrutinised in South Korea, which has just elected its first woman president, the conservative Park Geun-Hye, who has signalled a desire for greater engagement with Pyongyang.
Kim’s tone was conciliatory as he urged a scaling down of tensions between the two Koreas, who remain technically at war having never signed a peace treaty at the end of the Korean War in 1953.
“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,” he added.