11 January 2008

Change Without Change - North Korea's 2008 Joint New Year Editorial

"GLORIFY THIS YEAR OF THE 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING OF THE DPRK AS A YEAR OF HISTORICAL TURN WHICH WILL GO DOWN IN THE HISTORY OF THE COUNTRY." So reads the official KCNA translation of the title of this year's edition of North Korea's Joint New Year Editorial, an annual event since at least 1995 (though the editorials appear to go back as far as 1993, see a list of inspiring titles below this post).

This year's editorial is similar to past years in many respects - extolling the virtues of the DPRK, raising high the Songun banner, describing some of the feats of accomplishment in various economic and ideological sectors. But this year also has an interesting twist. It not only looks forward to the coming year (2008), but also sets a further mile marker for reaching economic and social goals - 2012, the 100th birth anniversary of North Korean founding leader Kim Il Sung.

This is an interesting element, setting in motion essentially a five year plan for national economic strengthening, to be formulated and controlled by the Cabinet (as the editorial notes, "it is necessary to establish the strict order and discipline of concentrating all economic work on the Cabinet and organizing and carrying them out under its unified command." Whomever controls the cabinet (Kim Yong Il, the Premier ) is also responsible for the economic consolidation and direction of the country.

So what is that direction, at least for 2008? According to the commentary, number one is power generation, specifically hydroelectric power production. After that is coal mining, the iron and steel industry, and improving the rail transportation system. Then comes improved mining. One the surface, these are extractive and heavy industries, the traditional bread and butter of the Communist economies.

But they are also paving the way for improved domestic infrastructure (reliable power, reliable rail transportation) that can assist in the export of minerals. Pyongyang has been passively and actively seeking foreign investors for its mineral sector, trying to get Americans or Europeans first, then South Koreans and Chinese as the major investors (it would prefer to limit the influence of neighbors, but if they are paying and not interfering, it is not too bad).

In fact, elsewhere in the commentary, it discusses the series of contradictions that economic development with foreign involvement will bring (though it doesn't use those exact terms). There are three contradictions that they must cope with, according to the commentary.

  • First is technically modernizing the economy while not losing the specific features of the North Korean economic structure (bring in the technology but don’t get rid of the socialist centralized control).
  • Second is allow people to reap the greatest possible benefits while also ensuring the greatest possible profitability (price controls will have to be carefully adjusted to find the sweet spot).
  • Third, develop external economic relations but focus on tapping domestic resources and potentials (don’t become a client state, don’t become an exploited extract-based economy).

The intent at economic expansion and international economic engagement is clearly seen, but so is the fear of the consequences. As the editorial notes elsewhere, "It is imperative to resolutely smash the enemy's reactionary ideological and cultural infiltration and psychological warfare and not to tolerate any elements that undermine our system and corrode our socialist morality and culture and our way of life." Don’t let their ideas undermine our control, carefully inoculate and isolate the population from the social and cultural influences that come with economic engagement.

This is a longstanding fear of the North Korean leadership, and has been a key element in understanding the sometimes bizarre paths toward economic change.

One last note on the economic front, there is the requisite imperative to substantially improve agriculture, and there is the frequent reference to continuing to supply consumer goods to satisfy the people's demands.

On the international front, there are the requisite digs at American imperialism, and the more recent calls to closer cooperation with the South, But there is also a very strong passage suggesting a potential shift in North Korea's defense posture in the future. "The idea of confrontation regarding the fellow countrymen as the archenemy should be discarded, the military tension be eased, and the elements of dispute be removed."

The last half of that is not all that groundbreaking, but the first half is rather interesting, considering the troubles the security services have been having in approving various aspects of the inter-Korean rail and other transportation networks. This shift has been underway for a while (propaganda changed after the 2000 summit, and continues to change with the increase in South Koreans visiting North Korea, as posters of flowers and smiling children on a backdrop of a unified peninsula replace scenes of evil puppet South Korean politicians).

But this is a rather clear and concise call to make the complete mindset shift, after more than half a decade of internal propaganda groundwork. The North Koreans may not be fast, but they do prepare ahead.

Radical changes from the North these are not, but the slow evolution of rhetoric and actions gives clearer insight into a regime that knows it is way out of steps with the times and realities of its neighborhood, sees a few potential paths to change, but is scared to death of each one for fear that something will get out of control and the regime will be swept aside.

Previous titles for Joint New Year Editorials:

  • (1993) Let Us Accelerate The Fatherland's Reunification On The Principle Of National Independence
  • (1994) Let Us Dynamically Advance In The New Year Under The Leadership Of The Great Party
  • (1995) Let Us Vigorously Accelerate The New Year's March By Upholding The Leadership Of The Great Party
  • (1996) Let Us Advance Vigorously In The New Year, Flying The Red Flag
  • (1997) Let Us Make Our Country And Motherland Evermore Prosperous Under Great Party's Leadership
  • (1998) Let Us Push Ahead With General March In New Year Under Great Party's Leadership
  • (1999) Let This Year Mark A Turning-Point In Building A Powerful Nation
  • (2000) Glorify This Year Greeting 55th Anniversary Of The Party Foundation As A Year Of Proud Victory In The Flame Of Great Chollima Upsurge
  • (2001) Glorify This Year As A Year Of Fresh Onward March In The Building Of An Economic Power In The 21st Century
  • (2002) Glorify This Year That Greets The 90th Birthday Of President Kim Il Sung As A Year Of A New Surge In The Building Of A Powerful Nation
  • (2003) Let Us Fully Demonstrate The Dignity And Might Of The DPRK Under The Great Banner Of Army-Based Policy
  • (2004) Let's Glorify This Year As A Year Of Proud Victory Through Revolutionary Offensive On All Fronts Of Building A Great Prosperous Powerful Nation Under The Party's Leadership
  • (2005) Let The Whole Party And Army And All The People Unite As One In Mind And More Strikingly Demonstrate The Might Of Songun!
  • (2006) Make A Higher Leap Full Of Great Ambition And Confidence
  • (2007) Usher In A Great Heyday Of Songun Korea Full Of Confidence In Victory
  • (2008) Glorify This Year Of The 60th Anniversary Of The Founding Of The DPRK As A Year Of Historical Turn Which Will Go Down In The History Of The Country

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I see you link to the late Korea Liberator. If you would, please update to the following two blogs that reactivated when TKL decided to shutdown;

DPRK Studies, http://www.dprkstudies.org/

OneFreeKorea, http://freekorea.us/