Kim Jong Un blames Seoul for rising tensions

Mr Kim Jong Un during his New Year address in which he said his top priority was raising living standards.
Mr Kim Jong Un during his New Year address in which he said his top priority was raising living standards.PHOTO: REUTERS

Speech by North Korean leader underlines suspicion of South's unification policies

SEOUL • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un blamed South Korea for increased mistrust in a New Year speech yesterday, after a year of heightened tension between the rival countries.

His comments highlighted the North's suspicion of the South's unification policies.

The speech was Mr Kim's fourth since becoming leader in 2011 when his father, Kim Jong Il, died, sparking a turbulent succession process marked by several bloody purges.

"South Korea has made a unilateral case for unification and increased mistrust and conflict between us," Mr Kim said during a 30-minute address broadcast on North Korean television.

Mr Kim said in last year's speech that he was open to a summit with Seoul, but tensions surged in August after a landmine blast on their border wounded two South Korean soldiers. The South blamed the North, which denied responsibility.

The two sides met for talks in August after a sustained military stand- off and agreed to reduce tensions and hold more talks at the vice-ministerial level, although subsequent negotiations have been fruitless.

"We should cherish last year's high-level talks and make continued efforts to seek dialogue and not take any further steps backwards," Mr Kim said of the August negotiations, adding that he would be open to talks with anyone to discuss "peaceful unification".

Applause was played at various points during what appeared to be a pre-recorded message. Photographs of factories and farms were interspersed with footage of Mr Kim standing in a wood-panelled room in front of a red flag bearing the crest of the ruling Workers' Party.

Mr Kim said raising living standards was his top priority and avoided any explicit reference to the country's nuclear weapons programme. Impoverished North Korea is under heavy United Nations sanctions related to its nuclear and missile programmes.

There was a mention of the importance of developing "varied" military strike options, but the thrust of the speech was economic development in the isolated, cash- strapped country.

"The Workers' Party of Korea gives top priority to the issue of improving people's living standards among millions of other national tasks," Mr Kim said. "We must create a turnaround in economic development."

He stressed the need to improve production and efficiency in a range of sectors from energy to agriculture, livestock and fisheries.

The speech kicked off a year that will see the first Workers' Party congress to be convened for 35 years in May.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2016, with the headline 'Kim Jong Un blames Seoul for rising tensions'. Print Edition | Subscribe