North Korea won’t be bullied by its nuclear-armed enemies, third-generation dictator Kim Jong Un said in his first public address at a military parade as South Korea warned that his regime may conduct an atomic test.
Dressed in a dark Mao suit and standing on a podium high above Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang yesterday, the new leader said, “the days of enemies threatening and blackmailing us with nuclear weapons are forever over.” Goose-stepping soldiers, mobile rocket launchers and tanks rumbled through the streets below in a celebration broadcast on state television.
North Korea’s humiliation from a long-range rocket that disintegrated within minutes of liftoff two days earlier increases the chance of Kim ordering an atomic test to regain face, South Korean Deputy Defense Minister Lim Kwan Bin said on April 13. The launch also ended a U.S. food-aid deal.
“Kim is very aware of how powerful the military is and knows his only strategy is to keep selling the ‘military-first’ policy,” said Koh Yu Hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Seoul’s Dongguk University. “Stability is what the young Kim needs most and he needs the full support of the military.”
The parade was broadcast on North Korean state television and held to commemorate the centenary of the birth of Kim’s late grandfather, state founder Kim Il Sung. The younger Kim is thought to be less than 30 years old and assumed power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died of a heart attack on Dec. 17.
It also featured what appeared to be a new, larger ballistic missile, said Baek Seung Joo, who studies Pyongyang’s military at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. South Korea’s Defense Ministry was unable to comment on the design or whether it was a real missile.
North Korea, which technically remains at war with the South since their 1950-53 conflict ended without a peace treaty, has 1.2 million people in its armed forces and has twice detonated an atomic device, in 2006 and 2009.
“In order to realize our goal of building a socialist, strong and prosperous nation, we must first, second and third strengthen the people’s army on all fronts,” said Kim, who shuffled his feet as he read from notes. “We have grown into a powerful military, equipped with our own means of defense and attack in any modern war.”
He didn’t mention the rocket launch or his regime’s atomic weapons program during the speech, which lasted 20 minutes. While North Korea said the launch was intended to put a satellite into orbit, the U.S. said it violated United Nations Sanctions 1718 and 1874, which ban any usage of ballistic missile and nuclear technologies.
Washington scrapped the February plan to provide 240,000 tons of food aid after the rocket was fired.
Kim Jong Un, who was schooled in Switzerland, styles his hair and mannerisms like his grandfather. He appeared more charismatic in his speech yesterday than his father, who publicly spoke only one sentence throughout his political career, according to Kim Hyung Suk, the spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry.
“Glory for the heroic soldiers of the Korea People’s Army,” the late leader said at a military event in 1992, according to the ministry spokesman. Founder Kim Il Sung used public speaking as a key political tool and often engaged crowds, he added.
“The young Kim is taking after his charismatic grandfather, the family patriarch, in trying to engage the people more openly,” said Kim Young Yoon, senior research fellow at the Korea Institute of National Unification in Seoul.
North Korea can’t compete against world superpowers in an arms race and must give up its conventional and nuclear weapons development programs to focus on improving its economy, South Korean President Lee Myung Bak said in a radio speech today.
Last week’s launch may have cost $850 million, enough to buy 2.5 million tons of corn for the North’s 24 million people, Lee said. As many as 1 million people starved to death during the 1990s, according to estimates from Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington D.C.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Asia Kurt Campbell told reporters today in Seoul that he discussed “potential next steps” regarding North Korea with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan and chief nuclear envoy Lim Sung Nam. Campbell declined to elaborate on actions the UN may take, saying only that he will “let that process play out.”
While the UN Security Council “deplored” the North’s rocket launch, they did not threaten further sanctions, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said hours after the rocket firing.
‘Splendor of Socialism’
The North’s parliamentary body decided to allocate 15.8 percent of the total state budgetary expenditure for national defense this year, the official Korean Central News Agency said on April 14, citing Finance Minister Choe Kwang Jin.
Kim Jong Il’s third son inherited an economy one-40th the size of South Korea’s. His father also left behind the goal of making the North a “strong and prosperous nation” by 2012.
Kim Jong Un, who formally assumed the regime’s top political and military posts last week, acknowledged past economic difficulties.“The Workers’ Party firmly determines that the people, who suffered much hardship, should enjoy the wealth and splendor of socialism and never again tighten their belts,” he said.
Soldiers massed in formation filled the square, while citizens watched from the periphery, waving red and pink pompoms. Celebrations continued into the night, with fireworks and a laser show lighting the skies over the capital.
New homes were built for 300 farming families and a new hydroelectric power plant opened last week in the northwestern province of Jagang, according to KCNA reports on preparations for the Kim Il Sung anniversary.
The words “Our eternal leader Comrade Kim Il Sung” were also carved 37 meters high into a rock face near Gaeseong, where North Korea operates a joint economic zone with South Korea.