North Korean Dictator Pledges Continuing Weapons Development

During a traditional year-end public speech, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un declared that his repressive regime would develop high-tech weapons systems. He described his desire to address “military instability” between his nation and South Korea, but he otherwise largely ignored Seoul and the U.S. in his address.

During the Korean Workers’ Party plenary session, Kim used most of his speech to discuss domestic issues, including urban housing projects, rural agricultural development to address chronic food shortages, and handling the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. His speech came during the tenth anniversary of his assumption of power after his father’s death.

The dictator made no direct reference to the U.S. or Joe Biden and only mentioned relations with South Korea briefly. He claimed that conditions on the Korean peninsula required that he keep the North Korean military prepared to be “powerfully propelled” immediately.

North Korea has become even more secluded than usual during the pandemic. Kim has sealed the country’s borders and ignored offers of assistance from South Korea. The U.S. Kim admitted that the country’s economy had been in trouble during the pandemic and said that the regime would maintain self-reliance.

Rachel Lee, with 38 North, a research group focused on North Korea, said that Kim is likely taking a wait-and-see approach regarding South Korea until that nation’s presidential election in March.

Kim has usually used his New Year address to send strong messages to South Korea and the U.S. and announce major domestic policies.

For example, in his 2018 speech, he announced the regime would be sending a delegation to that year’s Winter Olympics in Seoul. In the same speech, he said he was always near a “nuclear button” as a threat to South Korea.

The 2019 address included congenial language addressed to President Donald Trump, expressing a willingness to meet with him at any time. Their apparent meeting in Hanoi followed shortly after that.

The last two years have seen more subdued addresses by Kim, with the 2021 message being only a letter published in state media, mostly thanking the nation’s citizens.

In this year’s speech, Kim said he expected 2022 to be another “great life-and-death struggle” for North Korea.