In a televised New Year’s Day address, Kim Jong-un expressed his desire to ease tensions with South Korea but many remained skeptical of the North Korean leader’s intentions.
During the address, Kim urged South Korea to respect the two inter-Korean agreements, which were signed in 2002 and 2007. Unlike previous public statements by the North Korean regime, Kim’s New Year’s Day address refrained from attacking South Korean government or its leaders.
“A key to ending the divide of the nation and achieving reunification is to end the situation of confrontation between the North and the South,” Kim said, according to the New York Times. “A basic precondition to improving North-South relations and advancing national reunification is to honor and implement North-South joint declarations.”
Signed by two South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, the inter-Korean agreements, known as the “Sunshine Policy,” provided large South Korean investments, aid and trade to the North.
Through the Sunshine Policy, liberals Kim and Roh aimed to brighten the world’s most isolated regime and bridge the economic gap between the two Koreas, as they aspired to reduce the cost of a possible reunification in the future.
However, such policy was virtually abolished in 2008, when South Korean president Lee Myung-bak came to power. After his inauguration, the conservative leader suspended all large aid packages and investments, as he believed the Sunshine Policy failed to ease the political tensions between the two Koreas, as evidenced by the progress the North made with its nuclear weapons programs.
Since the suspension of the Sunshine Policy, the North-South relations quickly diminished and was further aggravated when a South Korean island was shelled by the North in 2010.
Broadcast by North Korean state television and radio, Kim’s address came as a surprise as his father, Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011, rarely addressed large public gatherings. Kim’s address was a first by a North Korean leader since his grandfather Kim Il-sung — who is still widely revered as a more people-friendly leader — last addressed the nation in 1994.
Despite Kim’s call for reducing tensions between the two Koreas, South Korea remained doubtful.
“The message was bland,” South Korean Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik said. “There were no ground-breaking proposals.”