The traditional joint New Years editorial of North Korea's official papers was mostly devoted to stressing dead leader Kim Jong-il's legacy and his "songun" or military-first doctrine, as if to reassure everyone that nothing will change now that his 20-something son Kim Jong-un has taken over.
Nam Sung-wook, director of the Institute for National Security Strategy, said, "It was a poorly-prepared statement that contains only an outline with no details. There are no specifics on what will be done other than the consolidation of Kim Jong-un's grip on power."
An intelligence official said the North could hardly be expected to come up with any new policies before Kim Jong-un has consolidated his position. He added the editorial seemed "very guarded." And Kim Yong-hyun of Dongguk University said nothing new can be expected until the following year.
◆ Powerful Nation
Experts were reduced to scouring the editorial for what it did not say. For example, it contained noticeably fewer references to the propaganda goal of turning North Korea into a "powerful and prosperous nation" for regime founder Kim Il-sung's centenary this year. Last year the editorial cited the light industry as the "front lines" of an "all-out offense," mentioning it 21 times while referring to the "lives of the people" 19 times. But this year, there were only five references to the light industry and three to the lives of the people.
The amount of space allotted to the economy was almost halved from 19 pages last year to just 11 this year. And the expression "powerful and prosperous nation" was mostly replaced with "powerful nation." This has prompted pundits to conclude that the regime has lowered its sights.
◆ Position on South Korea
The editorial bemoans that the South Korean government "ignored" the funeral of Kim Jong-il and "obstructed" people from expressing their condolences, warning it faces a "scathing judgment."
Even after 2010's deadly provocations -- the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island -- the North in the 2011 editorial called for tensions between the two Koreas to be resolved soon through actively pursue dialogue and cooperative projects. There were no such calls this time, and some experts sees that as a signal that the regime has yet to decide how to deal with the South in this time of transition.
◆ Stressing Unity
The editorial repeatedly stressed the legacy of Kim Jong-il. There were 10 references to Kim's legacy, contrasting with just four references made to the legacy of Kim Il-sung in 1995, the year following his death. Kim Jong-il is referred to as the "eternal center of unity" -- the word "unity" is used nine times, as against last year's four.
Kim Young-soo of Sogang University said this evidently is an attempt to warn off anyone who does not support Kim Jong-un's leadership, and hints there could be bloody purges ahead.
◆ No Mention of Nuclear Weapons
The editorial also made almost no mention of the U.S. except to demand that its "imperialist troops of aggression, the basic obstacle to peace on the Korean Peninsula," should pull out of South Korea.
But there was neither any other hostile rhetoric nor a demand for a peace treaty, which had been regular features of previous New Year's editorials.
Nor was there any mention of the North's nuclear weapons, which the papers hailed only last week as Kim Jong-il's greatest legacy.
The editorial apparently left them out because the U.S. tentatively agreed last month to supply the North with 20,000 tons of food supplements every month for a year in return for the North halting uranium enrichment.
The regime is desperate for aid from the international community, which has dried up since Pyongyang pulled out of six-party nuclear disarmament talks in 2008.
Prof. Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies said, "The North probably didn't mention either the U.S. or the nuclear issue because it wants the talks to resume quickly" so it can extract more concessions.