Is Kim Jong Il signaling shift in policy?

It depends on who you ask.

As many DPRK-watchers are aware, Kim Jong Il’s “On the Spot Guidance” trips (OSGs) are importnat for several reasons.  Aside from giving Kim the ability to bypass the normal bureaucratic informaiton chanels and get a better (although not accurate) impression of on-the-ground conditions, they serve as powerful signals to military and party functionaries who see them on TV or read about them in the media.  Not only do these OSGs signal where Kim is directing his energies, they signal who he is devoting them to.  Usually the names of functionaries who are joining him are reported in the North Korean press.

On 12/11/2006, the Daily NK reported that Kim has shifted his focus from military sites to economic development sites.  If so, this would be a positive developent (article available at bottom).

Today (12/27/2006), Yonhap reports another dake on the data:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appeared at 66 public functions related to his country’s armed services this year although he significantly cut back his appearances amid international unrest over the communist nation’s missile and nuclear tests.

As of Tuesday, Kim had made 99 public appearances, down from 121 during the same period last year.


Daily NK
Kim Yong Hun

Kim Jong Il has been gathering much interest following the nuclear experiment. In the past, he was known for making visits to military grounds, but recently has been inspecting grounds of economic development such as the farms.

More specifically, since the reconvening of the six party talks last month, Kim Jong Il has been making vigorous public outings 3 times a week. This month already he has made 5 inspections alone. On the other hand, after the missile launch last July, Kim Jong Il concealed himself for 40 days and made only 3 public outings following the nuclear experiment in October.

Last month, Kim Jong Il made 13 onsite inspections, of which 4 were made to military grounds and 9 inspections focused on economic development areas such as industrial sites, power plants and farms.

He visited sites such as Ryongsung Machine Complex in Hamheung, Heungnam Fertilizer Complex, Hamheung Chemical Industry University, Geumjin River Heungbong Youth Power Station in Hamjoo-gun, the construction site of Gumjin River Guchang Power Station in Jeongpyong-gun, and Kwangpo Duck Farm. Further within this month of December, he is known to have made visits to sites such as the construction site of Yesung River Power Station in North Hwanghae-province, Rice Collective Farm in North Hwanghae-province.

North Korean Central News Agency proclaimed Kim Jong Il’s onsite visits, “Hamkyung is the heart of our industries such as chemical, machinery and mining. As a result, it is responsible for a greater part of our nation’s economic development.”

For now, it has been analyzed that Kim Jong Il’s active visits symbolize a sigh of relief having thrown the “reconvening six party talks” card on the table, following the threat of national decline from the U.N. Security Council’s North Korea resolution and the continuous U.S’ financial sanctions.

Also, it seems that he carries a hope that changes will inevitably be made to the Bush Administration’s North Korea policy with the victory of the Democrats at the recent election. In addition, it was suggested that these regional tactics would be employed until the end of the 2008 presidential election, while proclaiming reconvening of six party talks, “reduction of nuclear armaments” and removal of financial sanctions to subside the intensified threat from the missile launch and nuclear experiment.

Moreover, it has been analyzed that with the unexpected suspension of food assistance and increased economic sanctions by the international community resulting from the missile launch and nuclear experiment, this attempt to look after the military in association to military politics and showing interest in the economy is to further urge “self-revitalization” and intercept in the disturbances by citizens.

According to a North Korean inside document “Lecture materials for officials and military” that was publicized on Donga Ilbo last 6th contained the following information “Just as we succeeded in developing nuclear armaments and evaded U.S. threat, now we are able to focus on economic development and the improvement of our people’s lifestyle.”

Regarding this, Professor Nam Sung Wook of Korea University said in a telephone conversation with the DailyNK “Kim Jong Il’s active movement’s construes that the threat on the nation has pacified and suggests that in future he will go about with normal activities” and “In particular, he will probably focus on revitalizing the economy.” However, he predicted “There are always orders but it will be difficult to expect much” and “From now on, North Korea will probably move towards its old ways.”

In fact, according to sources inside North Korea, last month North Korean authorities held meetings around the nation targeting soldiers and citizens proclaiming that “With the success of the nuclear experiment, in future we will focus on reviving our republican economy.”

On the other hand, Kim Jin Chol (pseudonym) who defected in 2005 said “Kim Jong Il will only be making onsite visits to protect his image and show that he is looking out for the people who are experiencing difficult times due to the nuclear experiment and such” and alleged “On the whole, North Korean citizens know that these acts by Kim Jong Il are only for “show” and so did not anticipate very much.”

Kim said “Kim Jong Il’s onsite visits are basically to gather support and merely to make orders” and criticized “Until now, North Korea has not adopted any fundamental measures but has only advocated ‘Self-revitalization.’”


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