N.Korean New Year's Message Puts Stress on Economy

      January 03, 2011 10:36

      The regular New Year's editorial in the official North Korean media outlets on Jan. 1 was easy on martial rhetoric but strong on the impoverished country's economic well-being. The words "light industry" appeared 21 times and "people's livelihood" 19 times, much more than the "Songun" or military-first doctrine, which appeared 14 times, and even the name of leader Kim Jong-il, which occurred eight times.

      The unwieldy title was "Let's achieve a decisive turnaround under the banner of improving people's livelihood and building a powerful and prosperous nation by adding spur to the light industry this year again!"

      This was the second year that the New Year's editorial has had a headline stressing the economy. The title of last year's stressed light industry and agriculture, but the content was more or less the same. "The light industry is the main frontline for this year's all-out battle," the new editorial said.

      North Korean tanks are seen in training of the Seoul Ryu Kyong Su 105 Guards Tank Division of the Korean People's Army in this undated picture released by North Korea's official Central News Agency on Saturday. /KCNA-Yonhap

      Light industry was also the main theme in 1985 and 1989, and agriculture, light industry and trade between 1994 and 1997.

      "The North has been calling for a revolution in light industry for 25 years, which means it hasn't developed much," a Unification Ministry official said. "But it continues to stick to the 'Juche' (or self-reliance) doctrine without presenting vision or plans to develop the industry this year."

      The editorial said, "Bright prospects have been created for mass production of 'Juche' iron and steel, 'Juche' textile, and 'Juche' fertilizer. We should concentrate our effort on the struggle to become self-reliant in production of raw and other materials."

      "The North stresses self-reliance by talking about 'Juche' iron and steel, whose production has nothing to do with improving its economy at all at a time when it would be difficult for the regime to feed the people even if it were to reform and open up," a researcher at a government-funded think tank said. "This shows that China's advice to Kim Jong-il to reform and open up is falling on deaf ears."

      In last year's editorial, the North called for more international trade, but this year there is no mention of external economic activities.

      A North Korean source said the North appointed a Korean-Chinese businessman to establish Taepung International Investment Group in a bid to attract foreign investment, but the regime seems to have given up trying because the group has produced no results. The editorial implies that the regime is adamantly against reform or opening, no matter how hard the times may be."

      Instead, it stresses the need to "secure raw materials and funds by developing and making the most of abundant underground resources." The "top four priority categories" are coal, electricity, metal and railroads.

      The ministry official speculated that the regime is trying to earn badly needed hard currency by selling natural resources to China. Early last year the North reportedly resumed exports of anthracite to China, which had been suspended in August 2009 at Kim Jong-il's instructions.

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