North Korea’s leader focuses his address on the economy, not nuclear weapons. For defector former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho, negotiations can progress if US accepts limits on nuclear weapons, not total denuclearisation.
Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In his New Year address, North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un focused on the economy, a possible sign that UN and US sanctions are biting, forcing him to go on the defensive, this according to South Korean experts.
Some 300 people met on Wednesday to discuss Kim’s annual speech at the Seoul Global Center, including a panel of eight experts. The event was hosted by the Korean Sharing Movement and Ewha Womans University's Institute of Unification Studies.
"Out of a total of 12,881 characters in Kim Jong-un's New Year speech, more than half, or 8,456 characters, were dedicated to emphasising the country's economy and people's livelihoods," said Kim Joon-hyung, a professor at Handong Global University. "This is in contrast with last year's speech that emphasised nuclear arms."
The speech did not however include anything specific, noted Lee Seog-ki, Senior Research Fellow at Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade.
"No new specific economic strategy was presented in most industrial sectors and expressions of the old days were revived, such as unified guidance by the state and the socialist economic law," Lee explained.
"It seems,” he added, that “international sanctions against the North Korean regime have had a substantial impact on North Korea's economy in 2018, making the strategies for 2019 defensive."
Nonetheless, for former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho said, "Reading the context of this year's address, we can tell there has not been the slightest change in Kim's stance of keeping hold of nuclear weapons.”
Thae, who was North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, defected to the South in 2016. He is the highest-ranking North Korean official to have done so.
"If the US agrees to talks on nuclear arms reduction, many negotiations would take place including talks on establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula," he said. "However, if the US insists on denuclearisation talks, the North's relations with the US as well as the South will not see as much progress as in 2018."
For his part, Kim said he was firmly committed to denuclearisation and was ready to meet US President Donald Trump at any time even though talks with Washington were stalled. Yet, he warned that he could seek "a new way" if the United States "does not make good on its promises [and] misjudges our patience” by keeping the sanctions.
Likewise, the North Korean leader renewed his call for an end to joint military drills between South Korea and the United States, demanding that no foreign military strategic assets be present onto the Korean Peninsula, saying that they are a "source" of tensions in the region.
He also stressed that the all the agreements reached at last year's three inter-Korean summits carry "significant meaning" in that they could be regarded as non-aggression treaty between the Koreas.
US President Trump expressed his satisfaction with Kim’s speech on social media. “Kim Jong Un says North Korea will not make or test nuclear weapons, or give them to others - & he is ready to meet President Trump anytime,” the US leader tweeted. “I also look forward to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!”