North Korea yesterday vowed to stage an all-out drive for prosperity as it unites behind new leader Kim Jong-un, ushering in the new year with promises to resolve food shortages, bolster its military and defend Kim Jong-il’s young son “unto death.”
The pledge in North Korea’s annual New Year’s message, released by the official Korean Central News Agency, comes as the country enters a new era, with Kim Jong-un installed as Supreme Commander of the 1.2 million-strong military and ruling party leader following his father’s Dec. 17 death.
This year is a crucial one in North Korea’s history as it tries to build a “great, prosperous and powerful nation” befitting the April centenary of the birth of national founder Kim Il-sung, the new leader’s grandfather.
“Glorify this year 2012 as a year of proud victory, a year when an era of prosperity is unfolding,” the North said. “The whole party, the entire army and all the people should possess a firm conviction that they will become human bulwarks and human shields in defending Kim Jong-un unto death.”
North Korea said it would boost its military and boasted that it was “at the epochal point of opening the gates of a thriving country,” with parts of Pyongyang “turned into socialist fairylands.”
Still, the message acknowledged the country’s food crisis, saying “the food problem is a burning issue.”
Pyongyang had been in talks with the US on food aid, but they stopped because of Kim Jong-il’s death.
The UN has said a quarter of North Korea’s 24 million people need outside food aid and that malnutrition is surging, especially among children.
The North’s message said organic farming methods should be used and that farming machinery and materials should be provided, but it did not go into specifics for improving food supplies.
The message, carried in a joint editorial in the Rodong Sinmun, Joson Inmingun and Chongnyon Jonwi newspapers, said North Korea must build on the foundations laid last year and turn itself “into an economic giant.”
The power and coal industries also will be a focus and Pyongyang will be turned into a world class city, it said. The message said information technology and bioengineering would help drive the economy, but gave no details.
“This year’s message shows North Korea will focus on the economy and ideological solidarity to establish stability” for Kim Jong-un’s leadership, said Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor at Korea University in South Korea.
The message didn’t include the country’s typical criticism of the US and avoided mentioning its nuclear ambitions, and that suggested Pyongyang is willing to continue talks with Washington to win aid, Yoo said.
North Korea’s traditional New Year’s Day message is always closely watched for clues to the government’s plans. It takes on added significance this year, coming just two weeks after the death of longtime leader Kim Jong-il.
North Korea in recent days has cemented Kim Jong-un’s position as leader, and on Saturday officially named him Supreme Commander over the military.
“The entire army should place absolute trust in and follow Kim Jong-un,” the New Year’s message said.
The North linked Kim Jong-un to the “Songun,” or military-first, policy of Kim Jong-il, and called him “the eternal center” of the country’s unity.
In fact, the editorial said: “The dear respected Kim Jong-un is precisely the great Kim Jong-il.”