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Kim Jong Un Seeks Economic Development Amid Sanctions

  • Kim Hwan Yong

South Koreans watch a TV airing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year speech, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Jan. 1, 2016.

South Koreans watch a TV airing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year speech, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Jan. 1, 2016.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year's speech shows the young leader is placing a high priority on the economy, analysts in Seoul said.

In a 30-minute address Friday, Kim appeared to stress economic development over military power. The annual speech is a possible indicator of the communist country's intentions for the coming year.

"We should concentrate all our efforts on building an economic giant to bring about a fresh turn in developing the country's economy and improving the people's standard of living," Kim said.

In a report released Sunday, Cheong Seong-chang, director of unification strategy at the Sejong Institute, noted that the country's military-first politics — or Songun, a guideline for domestic governance and foreign policy set by Kim's father — was less visible in the speech.

Cheong, who specializes in the North Korean leadership, said Kim has been focusing less on the military-first policy in his annual speech since he took power in late 2011. The change shows Kim is gaining confidence in his power, according to Cheong.

‘Stabilized grip on power’

"Politically, Kim appears to believe he has stabilized his grip on power. With submarine-launched ballistic missile tests, he might feel his country has secured deterrent against the United States and South Korea militarily," Cheong said.

Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University's Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said Kim appears to be seeking economic self-reliance in anticipation of prolonged international sanctions.

"The North Korean regime isn't expecting international sanctions to be lifted anytime soon, so it has been focusing its efforts on creating foundation for self-reliance. Related policies have been introduced during the last four years," Lim said.

Yang Moon-soo, a professor at the University of North Korea Studies, expects Kim to pursue pragmatic economic policies this year. In a discussion in Seoul, Yang said Kim is likely to invest resources in fields that could show visible results, including agricultural, livestock and construction industries.

In an apparent attempt to broaden its engagement with the international community, North Korea is reportedly planning to send a delegation to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland for the first time in 18 years.

South Korea's Yonhap News said North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong may attend the annual event, scheduled to take place January 20 to 23 in Davos.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.

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