Jeffrey Lewis: My Thoughts on Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Speech

January 2, 2019
Jeffrey Lewis

The following is an excerpt from The National Interest.

Each year, Kim Jong Un gives an address on New Year’s day. On the first day of 2017, Kim signaled the ICBM test that was to come. And on the first day of 2018, he hinted at the diplomatic thaw that would bring “love letters” and a finger-heart. So what does 2019 have in store for us?

Ultimately, there were few surprises in the speech. The first half of the speech was dedicated to the economy, just as much of North Korea’s propaganda has been since Singapore. (One interesting wrinkle is a renewed commitment to nuclear energy.) And when Kim turned to the issues of peace on the Korean peninsula and the stalled negotiations with the United States over denuclearization, he reiterated the line that we have seen from Pyongyang in recent months: Positive words about the transformation of relations with South Korea, but growing impatience with Trump.

This year, the address was delivered on television, apparently pre-recorded, with Kim sitting in a comfortable chair and speaking for about thirty minutes. A number of reporters, including Motoko Rich at the New York Times, live-tweeted translation. North Korea has now published the full text of the address, about 5,000 words long, in the Rodong Sinmun. KCNA has also published a brief 900-word summary in English which helps identify the most important bits.

Our interpretation of the speech is necessarily incomplete as Kim has also sent a pair of messages to South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump. The text of these communication has not been made public. Moon described his letter as containing a “positive message.” Trump has not mentioned his letter at all. U.S. and South Korean officials are interpreting the speech in light of these private communications, a luxury we do not have.

Continue reading at The National Interest.

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