Making his first New Year’s speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called on his country Tuesday to focus on economic improvements with the same urgency that scientists put into the launch of a long-range rocket last month.
Kim, shown speaking on state TV, said raising the standard of living is the new year’s most important task. He also pushed for the development of more advanced weapons, a “revolution” in science and technology and reunification with “compatriots” in South Korea.
The speech was the first televised New Year’s Day message by a North Korean leader in 19 years. North Korea founder Kim Il Sung routinely addressed his people on New Year’s Day, but Kim Jong Il never gave a TV address during his 17-year rule. During his leadership, the New Year’s message was published as a joint editorial in the nation’s three major newspapers.
North Korea also had its first grand New Year’s Eve celebration, including the boom of cannons and fireworks at midnight in Pyongyang.
The speech was a clear acknowledgement that North Koreans want improvement in an economy that has long lagged behind the rest of Northeast Asia. North Korea has little arable land, is prone to natural disasters and struggles to grow enough food for its 24 million people.
The speech itself was also a signal that Kim will continue with a leadership style more in line with his gregarious grandfather, national founder Kim Il Sung, than with his father, Kim Jong Il, who avoided making public speeches.
Kim’s speech avoided harsh criticism of the United States, its wartime enemy. North Korea has used past New Year’s editorials to accuse the U.S. of plotting war.