The DPRK's Key Political Statement

The third New Year's message of the Kim Jong Un era was a broad, sweeping affair, making policy priorities difficult to pinpoint: when there are so many areas to focus on, it rather diminishes the idea of focus at all. This year's key slogan is "Let us raise a fierce wind of making a fresh leap forward on all fronts of building a thriving country filled with confidence in victory!" There is, it seems, a leap forward in increasing the word counts of slogans at any rate.

Some of these fronts include the metallurgical and chemical industries, which "should supply sufficient amounts of steel and various kinds of chemical goods that are needed to reenergize the national economy." This is to move towards becoming both "Juche-oriented and modern", while noting that the economy implicitly lacks energy.

More explicitly, key infrastructural issues that have impeded economic growth are pointed out. "We should give definite priority to electric-power and coal-mining industries. While taking measures for generating electricity to the maximum at the existing power stations, we should draw up correct prospective plans for radically easing the strain on electricity supply and exert ourselves to carry them out. It is important to produce more electricity with priority given to hydraulic resources and by using wind, geothermal, solar and other kinds of natural energy." This references what to date has been an issue under Kim Jong Un: Pyongyang's electricity supply. As consumer power increases, people are buying more appliances and straining the electrical grid. The completion of the Huichon power station appears to have not alleviated this and so the issue is tacitly acknowledged in the address.

Transportation issues are also noted as the country "should proactively increase production in coal mines and drastically solve the problem of rail and other types of transport."

Agriculture is referenced but not in a way that suggests the experiments of mid-2012 will be pursued. Rather, 2014 is "the 50th anniversary of the theses on the socialist rural question made public by President Kim Il Sung," a major component of which was the consolidation of farming collectives into state farms. Another key part of the theses could be seen as ideologically unifying the peasantry and the proletariat. If Pyongyang is planning on toying with agricultural reforms this year, there is no hint of it in this text.

The fishing sector gets a nod, and it is instructed to "follow the example of the fishing sector of the People's Army that landed a huge haul of fishes by carrying out the order of the Supreme Commander unto death." (Could this be a veiled message regarding conflicts the North Koreans have had with Chinese fishing boats and contracted rights to fish? Perhaps, but that might be reading too much into this...)  As with the agricultural sector, production is supposed to increase, but the means to that end are not explained. The throwback to the theses on the socialist rural question could in some way be signifying a focus on traditional ideology (as well as providing an anniversary to celebrate -- it is also the "20th anniversary of the date when President Kim Il Sung wrote his last signature on a historic document concerning the country's reunification.") and this ideological concern is evident in the way the New Year's Address discusses the military, as well.

The good ol' 'Songun counting game' we've enjoyed playing the last few years reveals a mere three references to military-first, though this isn't to suggest that the portion of this year's address devoted to the KPA is insignificant. After all, "strengthening defence capabilities is the most important of all state affairs, and the country's dignity, people's happiness, and peace rest on powerful arms." Companies are to be the unit of concern this year and are to be "fully prepared politically and ideologically, militarily and technologically and their dear homes overflowing with brotherly affection." 

Again, there is a nod to ensuring ideological purity, though the primacy of the Korean Workers Party over the military is emphasized this year: through "political and ideological education among service personnel, we should train them to be strong in ideology and faith and ready to defend the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun and the Party Central Committee unto death."

Overall, this New Year's Address had a conservative tone, signaling continuity and perhaps a need to ensure cohesion after the shocking news of Jang Song Taek and the ups and (mostly) downs in Pyongyang's relations with not only its primary antagonists but also its allies. Given the tumultuous year that has just passed, this is hardly surprising. It would also be unsurprising if during 2014 we see some experiments with economic policy that are not foretold by the New Year's Address.