North Korean leader Kim Jong-un salutes soldiers during a military parade to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang on Oct. 10. (Yonhap News)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un used the phrase “beloved compatriots in the South” during a speech at the military parade to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) on Oct. 10, expressing his commitment to improve inter-Korean relations. He also made clear his intention to keep the priority on the economy moving forward while humbly expressing feelings of shame and gratitude toward the North Korean public.
Given the long-running breakdown in inter-Korean dialogue and North Korea’s negotiations with the US about the North Korean nuclear issue, Kim’s speech can fortunately be taken as showing that he doesn’t intend to ratchet up military tensions. We hope that North Korea will recall that inter-Korean economic cooperation is extremely important for its economic development and will quickly take steps to improve inter-Korean relations.
While North Korea displayed a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in this year’s military parade, we don’t think that should be regarded as a provocative action since no test launch has occurred yet. And while Kim said that the North would continue to strengthen its “war deterrence,” he also said that the North was not expanding its deterrence “with anyone particular in mind.” Kim’s decision not to specifically mention the US can be taken to mean that he doesn’t want to further damage relations with Washington. Given the possibility of North Korea and the US attempting to reset their relations after the American presidential election in November, it wouldn’t be desirable for either South Korea or the US to overreact to the North’s unveiling of a new weapon.
In fact, what is most striking is the unusually humble pose struck by the North Korean leader, who said he felt ashamed and expressed gratitude to the North Korean public a full 12 times during the speech. Despite being revered as the “supreme dignity” in North Korea, Kim came cap in hand to North Koreans who have suffered because of economic sanctions, the COVID-19 pandemic, and natural disasters in a telling example of Kim’s new style of rule. That also suggests he’ll continue to focus his governance on economic development, such as raising the standard of living, in the future.
It’s also encouraging that Kim personally sent “a message of warmth to my beloved compatriots in the South” and said he hopes that “the day will come when the public health crisis is overcome and North and South can work together once again.” That can be seen as a clear expression of Kim’s determination to improve inter-Korean relations, if not right away, then at an appropriate time after the American presidential election. We hope that Kim will recognize that, if relations are to be restored, the North Korean authorities need to make every effort to investigate the recent fatal shooting of a South Korean civil servant in the West Sea. Improved inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation are also essential for developing the North Korean economy and raising the standard of living, which are both priorities for Kim. Moving forward, we hope to see the North Korean authorities taking practical steps toward those ends.
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