Kim Jong-un

North Korea's Kim Jong-un calls for economic reform in new year speech

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2013, 11:13am

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has called for a "radical turnaround" in the impoverished country's economy in a rare New Year's address that also appeared to offer an olive branch to South Korea.

Kim's speech, broadcast on state television yesterday, was the first of its kind for 19 years, since the death of his grandfather and the North's founding president, Kim Il-sung.

Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, almost never managed to deliver any direct verbal address to his people.

The year 2013 would be one of "great creations and changes in which a radical turnabout will be effected", Kim said, adding that "the building of an economic giant is the most important task" facing the country.

Kim praised the success of the North's space scientists in launching a long-range rocket last month.

He said a similar national effort was now required on the economic front.

"The entire party, the whole country and all the people should wage an all-out struggle this year to effect a turnaround in building an economic giant and improving the people's standard of living," he said.

But he offered no specific policy directives for how this might be achieved by the isolated state, which is already under multiple UN sanctions and relies on China for 70 per cent of its foreign trade.

When Kim Jong-il died in December 2011 he left a country in dire economic straits - the result of a "military first" policy that fed an ambitious missile and nuclear programme at the expense of a malnourished population.

Despite a rise in staple food output, daily life for millions of North Koreans is an ongoing struggle to find enough to eat.

The address will be closely scrutinised in South Korea, which has just elected its first woman president, the conservative Park Geun-hye, who has signalled a desire for greater engagement with Pyongyang.

Kim's tone was conciliatory as he urged a scaling down of tensions between the two Koreas.

"An important issue in putting an end to the division of the country and achieving its reunification is to remove confrontation between the North and the South," Kim said.

"The past records of inter-Korean relations show that confrontation between fellow countrymen leads to nothing but war," he added.

The South's president-elect, Park, has distanced herself from outgoing President Lee Myung-bak's hardline policy towards Pyongyang and has even held out the prospect of a summit with Kim in the future.