In a 2009 New Year’s joint editorial printed Thursday in three North Korean newspapers, the Rodong Sinmun, the North Korean People’s Army newspaper and the Vanguard Youth newspaper, North Korea declared that “the validity of our republic’s foreign policy to realize denuclearization of the Chosun (Korean) Peninsula and protect the peace and security of Northeast Asia and the world is being displayed more powerfully each day.” The editorial, which contains North Korea’s domestic and foreign policy keynote for the year, is the first in which the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula has been specified. This indirectly revealed to the United States the North’s intent to carry out “negotiations” to resolve the nuclear issue and improve North Korea-U.S. relations in anticipation of the launching of the Barack Obama administration, some are commenting.
First, the 2009 New Year’s editorial predicted a hard-line policy toward South Korea and a flexible one toward the United States. Criticism of the South Korean government was harsher than ever, with an outpouring of invective such as “resuscitating the era of fascist dictatorship” and “businessmen in politics with their backs turned to the people.” The editorial also attempted to incite anti-government struggle, stating, “The people of South Chosun sweep away the fascist rule of subservient and traitorous conservative authorities.” It is the first time since 2000 that the South Korean government has been criticized so bluntly in a joint editorial.
“They made it clear that there is nothing more to hope for from the Lee Myung-bak administration,” said Kim Keun-sik, a professor at Kyungnam University. But unlike Pyongyang’s references to “the traitor Lee Myung-bak” and “the puppet Lee Myung-bak” in government-operated media, the editorial did not use the South Korean president’s name.
In reference to inter-Korean relations, the editorial stated, “The June 15 Joint Statement and its outline for practice, the October 4 Declaration, are signposts for unification of the homeland.” It also emphasized, “We will not permit any elements that deviate from historical North-South joint declarations.” This is a clear message that without fulfillment of the two statements’ terms, there will be no restoration of inter-Korean relations that involve North Korea breaking first and coming in.
In terms of the nuclear issue and North Korea-U.S. relations, the editorial indirectly revealed the North’s intention to “negotiate.” The editorial evaluated North Korea’s own efforts by saying, “The validity of our republic’s foreign policy to realize denuclearization of the Chosun Peninsula and protect the peace and security of Northeast Asia and the world is being displayed more powerfully each day.” This is the first time a New Year’s joint editorial has specified denuclearization as a target of that policy. The only references in previous such editorials to North Korea’s nuclear program came in 2007, when “the legitimacy of possessing nuclear capabilities” was stressed, and 2004, when the “principle of peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue” was expressed. “They indicated to the United States an intent to denuclearize and showed their expectations in accordance with the launching of the Obama administration,” said an expert at one national policy research center.
The omission of demands for the halting of South Korea-U.S. combined military training and the withdrawal of U.S. armed forces from Korea, which had frequently been included in the past, is also being interpreted along the same lines. A government official said, “It seems like they’re looking ahead to the inauguration of the Obama administration and saying they will wait until the new U.S. policy toward North Korea is revealed, without first making any demands that could provoke the United States.”
Domestic policy references had a strongly conservative tinge recalling the past, including the strengthening of ideological endeavors, “our style” of collectivism and rescuing oneself through one’s own endeavors, and emphasis on popular mobilization in the style of the 1950s Chollima Movement (initiated with the goal of producing rapid economic development).
Prof. Kim Keun-sik said, “The emphasis on ideology reveals an intent of blocking factors of instability in the system, in a situation with things like Kim Jong-il being unwell and inter-Korean relations deteriorating, and the references to salvation through one’s own efforts and popular mobilization mean that they will nationally mobilize internal resources, with support from outside sources such as South Korea blocked.”
Please direct questions or comments to [firstname.lastname@example.org]