North Korea: On 1 January North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivered the first live New Year's address to the nation in 19 years. His father Kim Chong-il always addressed the nation in a written editorial, because, as Kim himself said, he had a high, squeaky, woman's voice. Kim Jong-un channeled his grandfather Kim Il-sung who personally delivered New Year's addresses throughout his tenure.
The overriding and overt theme of the speech is that North Koreans must build the country into an "economic giant" in the new century. The subtext of the speech is that the Korean Worker's Party is in control and the armed forces and the government are subordinate to the Party.
The Korean Workers' Party and the "Party" were cited fourteen times in the speech. In every instance the citation required the people or other state entities to follow the leadership of the Party or urged Party members to greater exertions on behalf of the party. In every citation the Party was mentioned ahead of every other entity.
The Korean Peoples' Army was not cited by name. The "peoples' army" was mentioned once in connection with its duty to follow the Party, more than half way through the speech. Every mention of the "military" in the five paragraphs that addressed it emphasized that it is the servant of the people and is under the direction of the Korean Workers' Party.
The United States and China were not mentioned. Imperialists were mentioned once.
Kim Jong-un mentioned national reunification as almost a final theme in the speech, after the five paragraphs about the proper role of the military in society. While this topic received headline attention, it was almost an afterthought to the urgent demands of improving the national economy.
Kim Jong-un implied that an end to confrontation and an end to South Korea's hostile policy are components of a new phase of reunification. In fact, powerful interests in North Korean appear to disagree. At most, Readers might infer from the few brief statements about reunification that the North is open to talks.
Kim did not mention the nuclear program or nuclear talks. Praising the success of the country's space scientists in launching a long-range rocket last month, Kim said a similar national effort was now needed on the economic front. Kim urged the rest of the country to achieve economic success in the same way North Korea "conquered space."
Comment: In the NightWatch perspective, the emphasis on the Party as leader of the country is significant. The "military first' doctrine installed by the late Kim Jong-il was a manifestation of his conviction that the communist party had failed North Korea and that the army was the foundation of the North Korean state. In his first years as leaders, Kim was so afraid of assassination that he never traveled outside Pyongyang except to a military base.
Kim Jong-un's emphasis on the Party almost certainly reflects the influence of his uncle, Chang Song-taek, who guides young Kim and whose career was spent in Party positions. Kim did mention "military first" (Sangun) twice in his speech, but as an adjective to Party policy or leadership.
The implication of Kim's stress on Party leadership is that party leadership, vice military leadership, is not universally accepted. That explains his stress on the need for all North Koreans to accept Party leadership.
The message to the outside world appears to be a plea for forbearance while domestic issues get settled. Kim's detractors do not share that view. They think that provocation and tension promote the safety and security of the North Korean state.
NightWatch considers the address as another in a long line of pointless prods to urge the workers to perform economic miracles that the workers already know are beyond their capability and the state's resources. The address fits in a shop-worn mold that workers have already rejected years before.
The real message is that the new Kim regime has no more solutions to chronic economic problems than did his daddy's government. The North Korean regime remains intellectually bankrupt, despite the rise of a new leader with a Western education.
The statement made no overtures to South Korea that anyone should take seriously. It contained no ideas or subtle signals that 2013 might be more peaceful that the past two years. The only lasting point of the address is that young Kim did what his granddaddy did and his father wouldn't: he gave a New Year's address.
Afghanistan: Former Afghanistan Prime Minister and enemy of the present regime, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, gave an interview to a British news outlet which was published today. He said Afghanistan will collapse into murderous civil war after NATO troops withdraw in 2014 - and expressed his determination to kill more British troops "so they could never make the mistake of coming again to this region."
Hekmatyar also indicated that his Hizb-e-Islami party was prepared to participate in the 2014 presidential elections. He insisted that he wanted a "peaceful transition" from the present Afghan government to a new administration based on "free and fair elections.
Comment: Hekmatyar qualifies as one of the most enduring and brutish political figures in Afghanistan. He was prime minister in 1996 before the Taliban took power, but has fought the US, Afghan and NATO forces implacably in the past ten years.
The significance of his statement is that the Pashtuns will fight to the departure of the last US soldier and are determined to govern Afghanistan again, by force or through elections. Hekmatyar understands how democracy works and can be derailed to legalize dictatorship. He has done it before and has now declared that is his future goal.
His message is bring on the elections-the Pashtuns outnumber all other ethnic or sectarian groups. In fair elections, the Pashtuns will always win, though not necessarily Hekmatyar's party.
End of NightWatch ###
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