North Korean leader’s speech shows international sanctions working


Although much of the media focus was placed on his warning he would find a “new way” if the U.S. sticks to the sanctions, experts here argued that the New Year address of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un was mainly about the economy. It could indicate the sanctions by the United Nations and the United States are affecting the North, forcing it to go on the defensive.

The Korean Sharing Movement and Ewha Womans University’s Institute of Unification Studies hosted a forum on Wednesday at the Seoul Global Center to discuss Kim’s New Year address the day before. About 300 people gathered to discuss the North Korean leader’s annual speech, including a panel of eight experts. “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 emphasizing 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 emphasized nuclear arms.” The North Korean leader mentioned “economy” 38 times and “self-reliant economy” seven times during his speech, indicating Kim’s new base of power is now the economy, the professor noted. But the speech did not include specifics, Lee Seog-ki, Senior Research Fellow at Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade, pointed out. “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 said. “It seems 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.”


North Korea also wants South Korea to help improve the country’s economic situation by resuming inter-Korean economic exchanges, professor Kim said, as Kim Jong-un expressed his willingness to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Geumgang resort without any preconditions in his speech. Professor Kim said South Korea needs to build special zones for sanctions exemptions in Gaeseong, the Mount Geumgang area and other locations related to inter-Korean railway projects. He also pointed out it would be hard for the U.S. and North Korea to reach an agreement at their second summit expected early this year if the U.S. keeps insisting on the principles of complete denuclearization such as final, fully verified denuclearization (FFID) without giving any significant sanctions exemptions to North Korea.


South Korea’s role as a bridge between the North and the U.S. has become more important, he said, as there is a possibility the U.S.-North Korea talks would not result in a positive outcome. The two Koreas could form a working group, like the South Korea-U.S. working group, to have more concrete discussions to carry on the months-long denuclearization talks while also seeking ways to resume inter-Korean economic projects, Kim said.


By Jung Da-min

(Korea Times)

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