The shadow of his grandfather loomed large when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gave a much-trumpeted New Year’s speech on Tuesday, calling for economic growth and the defusing of tensions with the South.
It was the first verbal New Year’s address made by a North Korean leader in 19 years. Kim made his maiden live speech on April 15 when Pyongyang held a massive celebration for the 100th anniversary of the birth of national founder and his grandfather Kim Il-sung.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers his first New Year’s message Tuesday. ( Yonhap News)
The late Kim delivered his own televised remarks during his 1946-94 rule, while his reclusive successor Kim Jong-il had distributed editorials via state media until he died last year.
The young Kim stressed a robust economy underpinned by agriculture and light industries as the foundation for “the most important task of building a powerful, prosperous socialist nation.”
With the success of the Dec. 12 rocket launch being the underlying spirit, he urged “definitive measures” to “drive innovation in the coal and metal sectors and revitalize the overall economy.”
The Swiss-educated, 20-something leader also reiterated his predecessors’ resolve to reunify with the South.
“A unification of the motherland is the most urgent assignment for the people that can no longer be delayed and is the great leaders’ lifelong wish and precept,” Kim said.
He called for action to resolve the North-South standoff and following through on previous bilateral commitments on denuclearization, such as those made on June 15, 2000 and Oct. 4, 2007.
Though embracing no fresh vision, the novice leader appears to be seeking to carry on his grandfather’s legacy by mimicking his gestures and appearance to invoke North Koreans’ nostalgia for the relatively well-off era of the late autocrat.
Since taking power a year ago, he has also been trying to drum up support for the regime by loosening the military’s iron grip and exposing the ruling family to the public, thus projecting an image of a leader with a common-touch who cares for his people.
By Shin Hyon-hee (email@example.com