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The Peninsula

Unity Under Songun: A Look Into North Korea’s New Year’s Editorial

Published January 2, 2012
Author: Sarah Yun
Category: North Korea

By Sarah K. Yun

North Korea’s 2012 New Year Editorial had a few highlights with ample unsharpened messages. The overall objective was to emphasize strength and unity under the new Kim Jung-un leadership. In doing so, however, the editorial portrayed an undertone of crouching inwards with a few sprinkles of the typical rhetoric of criticism against the United States and South Korea. The editorial implied that North Korea would be focused mostly on the internal tasks of solidifying the Kim Jong-un leadership with interspersed moments of looking outwards.

Keywords & Phrases

Some of the keywords from the 2012 New Year Editorial included Songun; unity; bequeathed; great, prosperous and powerful country; opening the gates of a thriving country; prosperous and powerful nation; light industry; and food. These keywords give insight to North Korea’s current and future policies.

The largest emphasis was placed on unity under Kim Jong-un’s bequeathed Songun leadership. Songun was used 14 times, bequeathed ten times, and unity nine times to stress the continued struggle towards a unified Songun revolution, which was bequeathed by Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il and now to Kim Jong-un. This implies that the three Kims are one in mind, ideology and leadership, and also shows a window into North Korea’s dire need to stabilize the new regime under the young leader.

“The first and foremost national power of Kim Il Sung’s Korea was, is and will be the might of ideology and unity. The year 2012 is a year of single-minded unity, a year of burning loyalty, when our political and ideological might which has been consolidated generation after generation following the great leaders and the great Party, will be given full play.”

“We must develop our single-minded unity without interruption into the solidest one which is carried forward generation after generation. Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader of our Party and our people, is the banner of victory and glory of Songun Korea and the eternal centre of its unity. The dear respected Kim Jong Un is precisely the great Kim Jong Il.”

The phrases “opening the gates of a thriving country” (kang-sung-boo-heung) and “prosperous and powerful nation” (kang-sung-gook-gah) were new terms and each used ten times in the editorial. However, the well-known phrase of “great, prosperous, and powerful country” (kang-sung-dae-gook) was only used five times. This indicates that North Korea is trying to lessen the emphasis on its goal of achieving a great, prosperous, and powerful country under the new leadership. The change in phrase is all the more interesting given that kang-sung-dae-gook never had specific landmarks in the first place. The change also shows a glimpse into the quick adjustments that North Korea is attempting to make in order to maintain legitimacy of the leadership.

Contrary to what some predicted of Kim Jong-un to be a more enlightened economic reformist, the economic development section was noticeably shorter compared to previous years. This suggests that Kim Jong-un will not likely experiment with revolutionary economic reform policies in the first year of his rule. Some of the economic areas specified included light industry, agricultural or food industry, the electric-power industry, and the coal-mining industry, among others, which boil down to North Korea’s weaknesses in energy and food needs. It will be important to see North Korea’s food and energy policies develop throughout the year.

Other Implications

Besides the keywords and phrases, there are other noteworthy implications from the editorial that point back to the consolidation of Kim Jong-un’s leadership.

First is the potential for a mass political purge in order to reduce ideas of rebellion within the collective political leadership.

“It is important to radically improve the way of work of officials and their leading abilities as required by the era of great upsurge.”

“What is important today for our officials is to actively learn from the militant temperament of the commanding officers of the KPA, who carry out the intentions of Kim Jong Un in a most swift and thoroughgoing way. Officials who buckle down audaciously and without any delay to what the Party is determined to do, who carry out any challenging task at lightning speed in a three-dimensional way and who finish any thing to be impeccable even in the distant future as a thing of lasting value-the current age of great upsurge demand such officials.”

Second is the potential for an inter-Korea engagement strategy. Although there was no mention of inter-Korean cooperation projects, it explicitly mentioned the fifth anniversary of the October 4 Declaration and June 15 Joint Declaration, signaling North Korea’s potential willingness to talk to South Korea. The importance of inter-Korean communication was also emphasized.

“Solving the problems of inter-Korean relations by rejecting aggressive foreign forces and pooling the efforts of our nation itself is the demand of the June 15 reunification era. All the fellow countrymen in the north, south and abroad should open a broad vista for national reunification with the conviction that our nation should be of the first and foremost consideration and that they will have nothing they cannot do if they maintain the thoroughgoing stand of national independence.”

“All the Korean people in the north, south and abroad should unite closely under the banners of the June 15 Joint Declaration and the October 4 Declaration and give further spurs to the reunification movement. By doing so, this year they should make a breakthrough for independent reunification.”

Last, is the absence of nuclear issues throughout the editorial. Perhaps this was to leave room after the recent series of meetings between North Korea and the United States on denuclearization.

Overall, it was a lackluster New Year’s Editorial with a dominant theme of unity under Songun. However, even a lackluster editorial reveals the potential for conflict and engagement with North Korea. Perhaps these engagement points could be found in light industry, food needs, and nuclear negotiations, as indicated in the editorial.

Sarah K. Yun is the Director of Public Affairs and Regional Issues for the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are her own.

Photo from John Pavelka’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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