Kim Jong Un to shift focus to sconomy starting this year

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2015-6-11

After Kim Jong Un came to power, North Korea made regime stability and unity its priority and launched an intensive propaganda campaign, according to a study.

The Chosun Ilbo and experts on inter-Korean relations recently conducted a joint study in which they analyzed the past 5 years of articles published on the front page the Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). The study found that the percentage of articles stressing regime solidarity was 36 percent, higher than any other category. Following that were articles related to the economy (34 percent), the military (16 percent), foreign relations (10 percent), and South Korea relations (1 percent). This contrasts with the year 2011 when Kim Jong Il was in power. That year 51 percent of articles were related to the economy, while 28 percent dealt with regime unity.

However, in 2012, the first year of Kim Jong Un’s rule, the percentage of articles stressing regime unity reached 52 percent. Meanwhile, 21 percent of articles focused on the military, and 18 percent focused on the economy. Thus, we can surmise that after Kim Jong Il’s sudden death in December 2011, new leader Kim Jong Un fully mobilized media like the Rodong Sinmun to build his power base.

In 2013 and 2014, the percentage of front page articles dealing with regime unity was 37 percent and 35 percent, respectively, higher than any other type of article in those years. Thus, in the three years (2012, 2013, 2014) Kim Jong Un has been in power, priority has been placed on consolidating the power structure. During this period Kim Jong Un strengthened regime stability through means such as the purging and successive demotion of party, military, and political officials.

Once Kim Jong Un ascended to power, the amount of coverage related to the military also rose rapidly compared to the Kim Jong Il era. Experts view this as part of the effort to strengthen the foundation of Kim Jong Un’s power. In 2011, when Kim Jong Il was alive, the percentage of front page articles in the Rodong Sinmun related to the military was almost insignificant at 5 percent. But in 2012 that percentage rose to 21 percent, and in 2013 it rose again to 26 percent. Military coverage was especially common around the time of the December 2012 long-range missile launch and the February 2013 third nuclear test. In 2014, articles related to the military decreased; this year they seem to be increasing.

However, as Kim Jong Un approaches the end of the fourth year of his rule, there appears a turn to emphasize economic policy. This year for the first time in Kim Jong Un’s rule the percentage of front page articles about the economy (42 percent) exceeded the percentage of articles related to regime solidarity (26 percent). The North Korean leader intends to make just as much progress on the food security issue as he has in strengthening the foundation of his power. Now, as Kim Jong Un gains confidence in his power status, we might expect him to shift his policy priorities from securing regime support to improving the economy.

From a political perspective, the tendency for Kim Jong Un to honor his father’s legacy is also waning. In 2011 and 2012, articles related to Kim Jong Il’s birthday were continuously published on the front page of the Rodong Sinmun from January to the end of February. But this year the period for this coverage was shortened to five days (from February 14 to 18).

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