North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has addressed an unusual predawn military parade held in Pyongyang to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party on Saturday, according to footage aired on state television.
Kim thanked the military, which showcased new strategy weapons, for help in recovering from a series of damaging storms over the summer, and praised the country’s efforts to prevent any coronavirus outbreak.
The anniversary, celebrated with a raft of concerts and festivals, was closely watched around the region as it was seen as an event where Kim could deliver messages to domestic and foreign audiences.
State broadcaster KCTV showed squadron after squadron of armed soldiers and armoured vehicles lined up in the streets of Pyongyang ready to march through Kim Il Sung square in a night-time display.
None of the participants or the audience lined up in the stands were wearing masks, but there were far fewer citizens than usual on the square itself.
The programme opened with an image of a propaganda poster for the commemorations, showing three North Koreans holding up its symbols of a hammer, sickle and brush, and the slogan: “The biggest glory to our great party.”
North Korean military parades normally climax with whatever missiles Pyongyang wants to highlight and are keenly watched by observers for clues to its weapons development.
According to Seoul’s joint chiefs of staff, the display actually took place in the early hours of Saturday, when they said in a statement that “signs of a military parade – involving equipment and people on a large scale – were detected at Kim Il Sung Square”.
South Korean and US intelligence agencies were “closely tracking the event”, they added.
For weeks, commercial satellite imagery has shown thousands of North Korean soldiers practising marching and South Korean officials have said the North could use a parade to unveil a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), or a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
The last time North Korea broadcast a military parade live on television was in 2017 when it showed off a number of large ICBMs amid heightened tension with the United States.
The missiles were paraded again in February 2018, but no international media outlets were allowed to observe and the event – to mark the 70th anniversary of the state’s founding, was not broadcast live. State television aired recorded footage later.
Shortly afterwards, Kim began a flurry of diplomacy including meeting international leaders such as US President Donald Trump.
While no large missiles have been displayed since, the country undertook a series of test launches late last year and Kim promised a “new strategic weapon” in his New Year’s speech.
Denuclearisation talks with Washington have broken down and South Korean officials said on Thursday that Kim could use the military parade as a “low intensity” show of power ahead of the US presidential election in November.
Just putting this out there… Could we witness the 1st-ever night-time North Korean military parade?
1. No one can hear any parade in PY right now (multiple sources)
2. On Tueday morning, there was lots of nighttime drilling — including fly-by over Pyongyang.
Just a guess…
— Chad O’Carroll (@chadocl) October 10, 2020
In a congratulatory message to Kim for the anniversary, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he intended to “defend, consolidate and develop” ties with North Korea, its state media said on Saturday.
According to KCNA, Xi said he was “greatly pleased” with the achievements that North Korea had made in recent years by engaging with foreign countries in the face of hardships and challenges.
After years of cool relations during which China joined the US and other nations in imposing sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, Xi and Kim met five times in 2018 and 2019.
While North Korea says it has had no confirmed cases of COVID-19, strict border closures and other measures it imposed to prevent an outbreak have further strained its economy, which is heavily reliant on trade with China.