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What the US Should Take Away from Kim Jong Un's New Year Address

January 4, 2019 in Economics

By Eric Gomez

Eric Gomez

Last year was a pretty good one for the Korean Peninsula. A
whirlwind of diplomatic activity helped bring the region back from
the brink of war, but the pace slowed toward the end of the year
and 2018 ended with serious doubts about the trajectory of
U.S.-North Korea negotiations.


Kim Jong Un’s customary New Year speech
didn’t
provide many answers about what comes next in denuclearization
talks with Washington, but this does not diminish its importance
for U.S. policymakers. The primary value of Kim’s address is
the information it conveys about his domestic priorities for the
year ahead. These priorities create incentives that U.S.
negotiators should consider as they deal with their North Korean
counterparts.

The most important takeaway from Kim’s address is the
re-stating of a
new strategic line
that prioritizes economic development. Since
the primary audience for the speech is the North Korean people,
economic policy has loomed large in previous New Year speeches.
What makes the economic section of this year’s address
special is its repetition of
Kim’s April 2018 announcement
that the old strategic line
of simultaneous development of the economy and nuclear weapons

also known as the byungjin line
— is
successfully completed.

Washington should take
full advantage of Kim’s renewed focus on the economy.

Referencing the new strategic line in the New Year speech
combined with the April 2018 announcement and
multiple inspections of various economic projects during the summer
of 2018
(and harsh criticism of their management) underscores
the seriousness of Kim’s commitment to economic improvement.
Furthermore, while national security and nuclear weapons were
mentioned in Kim’s address, they came up very briefly.
National security was mentioned in a very broad sense:
“Powerful self-defense capacity is a cornerstone of the
existence of a state and a guarantee for safeguarding peace.”
The elevation of the new strategic line coupled with the relative
downplaying of military and nuclear issues suggest that Kim’s
focus on the economy will be a serious driver of his policy
decisions in 2019.

This shift in North Korean domestic priorities has
implications for America’s approach to negotiations
on
the North’s nuclear weapons program. U.S. sanctions probably
did little to slow down Pyongyang’s testing and development
of long-range ballistic missiles or nuclear warheads, but sanctions
do make it harder for Kim to achieve his economic development
goals. Getting sanctions lifted is thus a top priority, and Kim has
repeatedly called for relief as part of a phased, tit-for-tat
process that, in theory, will ultimately result in
denuclearization.

However, refusing to lift any sanctions until North Korea makes
significant steps toward denuclearization …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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