China, Analysts Debate Importance of Kim Jong Un Speech

Posted April 16th, 2012 at 5:10 am (UTC-5)
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China's state media is urging the world to positively encourage change in North Korea, citing an unprecedented public speech by new leader Kim Jong Un as a sign that the reclusive Stalinist state is interested in engagement.

The Communist Party-affiliated Global Times says in a commentary Monday that engagement, rather than resistance, may be more helpful in pushing Pyongyang into changing.

The paper suggested a new openness in Pyongyang may be possible, evidenced by Kim Jong Un's youth and the fact that he broke with his father's longstanding practice by speaking in public on Sunday. In the speech at a massive military rally, Kim pledged to work with those who will join him in seeking peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

“Our party, the government of the republic will go ahead hand-in-hand with those who want reunification and peace and prosperity of nations, and exert responsible and patient efforts to realize the historical cause of national reunification.”

The Chinese optimism is not shared by U.S. Senator John McCain, who compared Pyongyang's failed rocket launch last week to the motion picture Groundhog Day, in which a man wakes up morning after morning to find the previous day repeating itself.

“For 20 years now, we've been going through this Groundhog Day exercise – confrontation, followed by negotiations, followed by aid, followed by confrontation. I mean, it is remarkable how many times we've seen this movie, and meanwhile, the North Koreans continue to make progress on nuclear … and now we're going to hear there's going to be another nuclear test.

Kim Jong Un's speech came after North Korea's embarrassing failure Friday to put what it called a weather satellite into orbit. Washington, Seoul and Tokyo called the launch a disguised attempt to test a long-range ballistic missile.

Michael Auslin of the American Enterprise Institute said Monday that he didn't see Mr. Kim's public appearance as any indication that the new leader will act any differently than his deceased father, Kim Jong Il.

“Given the scale of the failure and embarrassment on Friday, I think it's not too surprising that they'd send him out right away to show that he's in charge, that the regime is unified, that there's no second guessing, and that they're going forward with what they said which is to focus first, second and third on the military, which is what he claimed in the speech. So I don't know if this is enough to make us think that he's going to act differently or speak more publicly than his father.”

But Global Times urged the United States and its allies to adopt a more realistic stance, saying change is still possible as long as North Korea feels safe from invasion and subversion.