An annual ritual of North Korea’s is the release of a lengthy propaganda statement on New Year’s Day that serves as guidance and provides a sense of priorities for the coming year. Under Kim Jong-il, the statement came in the form of a joint New Year’s Day editorial by three leading news organs, but Kim Il-sung gave the speech himself. Kim Jong-un does not appear to have the same fear of public speaking that his father apparently had, so he gave the speech, which was broadcast on North Korean television, and is available through YouTube (see below). Even though Kim is not afraid to read a speech in front of a camera, the echoing of the room, despite North Korean cutaways to a building accompanied by an applause track, suggests that Kim did not present the speech to a live audience. Curious.
The speech has been panned as a repetition of the same old, same old, here and here, while it was greeted in the South Korean media as potential evidence of North Korean openness to an olive branch from Seoul. I see the speech as a reiteration of North Korea’s basic conditions for stabilizing the inter-Korean relationship with a conservative South Korean leader, namely, an insistence that “all the compatriots in the north, south and abroad should launch a dynamic struggle to carry out to the letter the June 15 Joint Declaration and October 4 Declaration, great reunification programs common to the nation in the new century and milestones for peace and prosperity.”