After weeks of threatening the Trump administration with a “Christmas gift” that many assumed would be renewed ballistic missile tests, North Korea was notably silent as Christmas day passed. Kim’s threats were meant to press Trump toward offering concessions in the negotiations with the reclusive state, as Trump pushes for North Korea’s denuclearization and Kim aims to loosen stifling economic sanctions placed on North Korea by the international community.
“Emphasizing the need to take positive and offensive measures for fully ensuring the sovereignty and security of the country as required by the present situation, (Kim) indicated the duties of the fields of foreign affairs, munitions industry and armed forces of the DPRK,” North Korea’s state-owned KCNA news outlet reported this week.
Kim’s call for “positive and offensive measures” has been seen by some as a continuation of his Christmas threats; this is entirely feasible. Kim has long demanded that progress be made in talks between the two nations prior to the end of the year. So, while Trump may have called Kim’s bluff on Christmas, Kim may now be looking to make a statement at year’s end to demonstrate that his threats aren’t quite as empty as they seem.
However, outside the aggressive rhetoric, KCNA went on to report that Kim was placing an emphasis on the nation’s stifled economy. This may suggest that the situation within North Korea is dire enough, in the minds of the populace, that the state’s propaganda mouthpiece had to address it, or perhaps that Kim himself feels the need to reassure the populace.
“He stressed the need to reasonably straighten the country’s economic work system and order and establish a strong discipline, and presented the tasks for urgently correcting the grave situation of the major industrial sectors of the national economy,” the report said.
The phrase “grave situation” might be an accurate way to describe the conditions inside North Korea’s borders. As the international community followed America’s lead in establishing a series of strict new economic sanctions meant to discourage Kim’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, the number of deserters from Kim’s military trying to make it across the border into neighboring nations saw a dramatic uptick.
Perhaps most tellingly, one border soldier that made his escape across the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea, while being treated for multiple gunshot wounds he sustained during his escape, was found to have only hard corn kernels and massive parasitic worms in his stomach. North Korea historically gives the best rations and equipment to soldiers on the border in order to present a strong image of military power. This would indicate that soldiers stationed elsewhere in the country may be in even worse shape.
To that end, KCNA reports that Kim specifically addressed the need for a “decisive” increase in agricultural production. It’s important to note that it’s really no surprise that the situation within North Korea has continued to worsen under the sanctions. But what makes these statements stand out is Kim’s apparent need to acknowledge and address the difficult situation his people are facing. North Korea, like Russia, tends not to publicly acknowledge such shortcomings in favor of a carefully concocted geopolitical “tough guy” persona.
However, despite Kim’s push for progress, the Trump administration seems keen on calling Kim’s bluff and watching him sweat under the weight of his nation’s crippled economy.
“We’re watching what they’re doing here in the closing days of this year, and we hope that they’ll make a decision that will lead to a path of peace and not one towards confrontation,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.