The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, called for an end to the “confrontation” with rival South Korea on Tuesday in what appeared to be an overture to the incoming South Korean president as she was cobbling together South Korea’s new policy on the North.
North Korea issued a major policy statement on New Year’s Day, following a tradition set by Mr. Kim’s grandfather, the North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, and continued by his father, Kim Jong-il, who died in December 2011, bequeathing the dynastic rule to Mr. Kim.
Although Mr. Kim inherited the central policies of his father, outside analysts see him as trying to distance himself in a variety of ways from his father’s ruling style. Kim Jong-il was more feared than respected among his people, and his rule was marked by a major famine.
The most significant feature of Kim Jong-un’s speech was its marked departure of tone regarding South Korea.
“A key to ending the divide of the nation and achieving reunification is to end the situation of confrontation between the North and the South,” Mr. Kim said. “A basic precondition to improving North-South relations and advancing national reunification is to honor and implement North-South joint declarations.”
He was referring to two inter-Korean agreements, signed in 2000 and 2007, when two South Korean presidents, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, were pursuing a “Sunshine Policy” of reconciliation and economic cooperation with North Korea and met Mr. Kim’s father in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.
As a result of those agreements, billions of dollars of South Korean investment, aid and trade flowed into the North. Billions more were promised in investments in shipyards and factory parks, as the South Korean leaders believed that economic good will was the best way of encouraging North Korea to shed its isolation and hostility while reducing the economic gap between the Koreas and the cost of reunification in the future.
But that warming of ties ended when conservatives came to power in South Korea with the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak in 2008. Mr. Lee suspended any large aid or investment because of the lack of progress toward dismantling the North’s nuclear weapons programs, and inter-Korean relations spiraled down, further aggravated by the North’s shelling of a South Korean island in 2010.Mr. Kim’s speech on Tuesday, which was broadcast through the North’s state-run television and radio stations, was another sign that the young leader was trying to emulate his grandfather, who was considered a more people-friendly leader and is still widely revered among North Koreans.
Mr. Kim returned to the tradition of Kim Il-sung, issuing the statement in a personal speech. During the rule of Kim Jong-il, the statement — which laid out policy guidelines for the new year and was studied by all branches of the party, state and military — was issued as a joint editorial of the country’s main official media.
In his speech, Kim Jong-un, echoed themes of previous New Year’s messages, emphasizing that improving the living standards of North Koreans and rejuvenating the agricultural and light industries were among the country’s main priorities.
But he revealed no details of any planned economic policy changes. He mentioned only a need to “improve economic leadership and management” and “spread useful experiences created in various work units.”
Since July, reports from various media suggest that Mr. Kim’s government has begun carrying out cautious economic incentives aimed at bolstering productivity at farms and factories. Some reports said the state was considering letting farmers keep at least 30 percent of their yield; currently, it is believed, they are allowed to sell only a surplus beyond a government-set quota that is rarely met.
Mr. Kim also vowed to strengthen his country’s military, calling for the development of more advanced weapons. But he made no mention of relations with the United States or the international efforts to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. He simply reiterated that his government was willing to “expand and improve upon friendly and cooperative relationships with all countries friendly to us.”
Mr. Kim’s speech followed the successful launching of a satellite aboard a long-range rocket in December. North Korea’s propagandists have since been busy billing the launch as a symbol of what they called the North’s soaring technological might and Mr. Kim’s peerless leadership. Washington considered it a test of long-range ballistic-missile technology and a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions banning such tests, and is seeking more sanctions to impose on the isolated country.
The incoming leader of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, who was the presidential candidate of Mr. Lee’s conservative governing party, did not immediate respond to the speech. Ms. Park is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, the former military strongman under whose rule from 1961 until 1979 a staunchly anti-Communist, pro-American political establishment took root in South Korea.
North Korea had engineered a couple of assassination attempts on Ms. Park’s father, one of which resulted in her mother’s death in 1974. But Ms. Park also traveled to Pyongyang in 2002 and discussed inter-Korean reconciliation with Kim Jong-il.
During her campaign for president, she said that if elected, she would decouple humanitarian aid from politics and try to hold a summit meeting with Kim Jong-un. She was in part reacting to widespread criticism in South Korea that Mr. Lee’s hard-line policy did little to change the North’s behavior.
During the campaign, however, Ms. Park stuck to Mr. Lee’s stance on the most contentious issue of large-scale investment, which the North considers crucial. Ms. Park, like the current president, insisted that any large-scale economic investments be preceded by the “building of trust” through progress in curbing North Korea’s nuclear weaponsprogram.
Peace bought with “shoveling” of unrestrained aid under the Sunshine Policy was “a fake,” she said, citing the North’s long history of using military threats to win economic concessions.
Earlier, North Korea called her a “confrontational maniac” and “fascist.” But since her election, it has refrained from attacking her.