Positive signs in Kim Jong-un's New Year message
In his New Year's message on Tuesday, North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong-un, called for the resolution of inter-Korean deadlock and vowed to turn his communist state into an economic powerhouse. But his message failed to impress South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's administration, which said Kim offered no fresh ideas on improving North-South relations.
As is often the case with North Korea's public announcements, however, it was the omissions rather than content in Kim's message that drew keen attention from South Korea's Pyongyang watchers. Most notable this time was the absence of vitriol that the North has hurled against South Korea and the United States in the past. Some Pyongyang watchers said this reflected its desire to improve ties with its arch-enemies.
The young Kim said South and North Korea needed to put an end to the current state of confrontation. He also called on the South to implement the accords his late father, Kim Jong-il, had concluded with the progressive South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.
He refrained from repeating last year's attacks on the South perpetrated by the New Year's editorial from Pyongyang's propaganda organs. In that editorial, the North said the South's refusal to offer condolences when Kim Jong-il died the previous year was "behaviour tantamount to a crime against humanity."
Presumably, Kim Jong-il had a desire for talks with new President-elect Park Geun-hye, who had said during her campaign that she would not attach any preconditions to the resumption of inter-Korean talks, as Lee had done.
As a precondition to renewing inter-Korean talks, Lee had demanded an apology from the North for torpedoing a South Korean warship and shelling a South Korean island. But Park said dialogue would be needed even if it was solely to gain an apology from the North.
In a similar vein, Kim did not renew North Korea's outright demand for the pullout of US forces from South Korea. Instead, he said the North was resolutely opposed to occupation, interference and aggression by a foreign power. Here again, he was apparently sending a signal that he desired to improve ties with the second Obama administration.
But North Korea will have to keep its end of the bargain if it wants food aid and other types of assistance from the South. It is the same with North Korea's desire for better relations with the United States. Who will see eye to eye with North Korea if it is bent on missile launches, nuclear tests and other types of provocation?