North Korea promises prosperity, demands loyalty to new leader

January 1, 2012

— North Korea vowed an “all-out drive” Sunday toward economic prosperity, setting a vision for a nation with fewer food shortages, a stronger military and a people who defend their new supreme leader with their lives.

“The whole Party, the entire army and all the people should possess a firm conviction that they will become human bulwarks and human shields in defending Kim Jong Eun unto death,” said an editorial carried in the country’s three major state-run publications.

North Korea uses its annual New Year’s editorial to set the agenda for the nation, and outside analysts describe it as a fiery keynote. This year’s message provided a window into the country’s policymaking — and its many challenges — after the death of Kim Jong Il, who left behind a failing nuclear-armed nation led by an inexperienced hereditary successor.

The editorial, outside experts said, tried both to push for economic growth and build support for the young leader, who is thought to be in his late 20s. The editorial made clear that Kim Jong Eun would follow Kim Jong Il’s plan to build a prosperous nation, and it described the successor as a perfect duplicate of his father. Kim Jong Eun’s legitimacy, experts say, depends on that link, especially as he tries to build support among older party and military elites. But his country also faces problems — notably, chronic food shortages and human rights abuses — that his father and grandfather either failed to or neglected to address.

“It is the steadfast determination of our Party that it will make no slightest vacillation and concession in implementing the instructions and policies [Kim Jong Il] had laid out in his lifetime,” the editorial said.

After 63 years of rule by the Kim family, North Korea has among the world’s lowest living standards, its people confined in a secretive police state. But North Korea has long tabbed 2012 — the 100th anniversary of founder Kim Il Sung’s birth — as a year for massive development and emergence as a “strong and prosperous” first-world state. The Sunday editorial described 2012 as a “major, important occasion for displaying the might of Korea.”

The editorial made a rare mention of the country’s “burning” food problem, but it outlined only vague steps for a solution, calling on “loyalty to the revolution” and a radical increase in crop yield.

Before Kim Jong Il’s death on Dec. 17, North Korea was close to a deal in which it would have received 240,000 tons of food aid from the United States in exchange for a possible suspension of its uranium enrichment program. But those arrangements are on hold as neighboring governments draw up plans to deal with Pyongyang’s new leadership. The State Department’s top Asia diplomat, Kurt Campbell, will visit Beijing, Seoul and Japan this week.

North Korea’s Sunday editorial included almost none of its typical criticism of Washington, though several times it mentioned the imperialist threat that surrounded it. The country also described “U.S. aggressor forces” as the main obstacle to peace on the Korean Peninsula. But it gave no mention of its nuclear weapons program — a sign, experts said, that the country might be open to further talks.

“Before Kim Jong Il died, North Korea started to have that dialogue, and they were willing to accept the U.S.’s nutritional aid,” said Ryoo Kihl-jae, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies. “So it was very natural for North Korea not to denounce the U.S. in this editorial. It’s a sign that they are still willing for dialogue in the future.”

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