SEOUL – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for unity in a New Year’s message Wednesday and hailed the execution of his once-powerful uncle as a resolute act to remove “factionalist filth.”
Kim’s comments, which included a call for improved ties with Seoul but also a warning of a possible “nuclear catastrophe,” will be scrutinized by outside analysts and governments for clues about the opaque country’s intentions and policy goals.
“Our party took resolute action to remove . . . factionalist filth within the party last year,” Kim said in his message on state TV. “Our party’s timely, accurate decision to purge the anti-party, anti-revolutionary and factionalist elements helped greatly cement unity of the party and the revolution and strengthened our solidarity by 100 times.”
It was his first public comment on the execution last month of Jang Song-Thaek, once the country’s unofficial No. 2 and Kim’s political mentor, although the young leader did not mention him by name.
Kim’s tone was strong as he called for nationwide ideological education and political awareness to eliminate “even the slightest phenomenon and element” undermining unity.
“It is necessary to establish stringent revolutionary discipline and order in all domains of the revolutionary struggle and construction work,” he said, pledging a crackdown on “any sort of alien ideology and decadent lifestyle.”
Jang’s purge and execution was staged in an extraordinarily public and brutal fashion. A party statement denounced him as “human scum” and a drug-addicted womanizer who pocketed state money to support his decadent lifestyle.
Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, said the speech underlined Kim’s desire to portray himself as an unchallenged and stable leader, two years after he took power.
In his message, Kim also included rhetoric that some analysts saw as a first step to renewing dialogue with rival Seoul. Kim called for an improvement in strained ties with South Korea, saying it is time for each side to stop slandering the other and urging Seoul to listen to voices calling for Korean unification.
“We will join hands with anyone who opts to give priority to the nation and wishes for its reunification, regardless of his or her past,” he said.
That language is an obvious improvement on last year’s threats of nuclear war, though there is still skepticism in Washington and Seoul about Pyongyang’s intentions.
“Our military must maintain full readiness and react mercilessly to any provocations by the enemy,” South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said in his own New Year’s message.
Kim Jong Un in his message also called for the construction of “world-class” structures, praising the speedy completion of his pet ski resort project.
“The construction sector should set up world-class structures . . . and build many other structures that could contribute to improving the people’s living conditions,” he said.
He praised soldiers and builders for setting up “numerous monumental structures,” including the Masik Pass Ski Resort, in a short period.
State media said the ski resort opened Tuesday and Kim visited to mark its completion, taking a ride on a ski lift. Thousands of North Korean soldiers had been mobilized to complete it by the end of last year.
The resort made headlines in August when Switzerland blocked a $7.6 million sale of ski lifts to Pyongyang, calling it a “propaganda project” for the impoverished Stalinist regime.