Nuclear-armed North Korea appears to have held a huge military parade early Saturday, Seoul said. Pyongyang’s newest and most advanced weapons are said to be on display in the capital of the coronavirus-barricaded country.
The eagerly awaited exhibition is part of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party of the North.
At such events, thousands of troops usually pass through Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, named after the founder of North Korea, under the gaze of his grandson Kim Jong Un, the third member of the family to rule the country.
Usually a cavalry of increasingly larger armored vehicles and tanks follows, culminating with the missiles that Pyongyang seeks to highlight.
Observers watch them closely for clues about weapon developments.
“Early in the morning, signs of a military parade involving equipment and people on a large scale were discovered in Kim Il Sung Square,” the joint Seoul chiefs of staff said in a statement.
South Korean and US intelligence agencies were “closely” following the incident, they added.
The parade is part of commemorations held 75 years after Kim’s ruling party was founded. This is an anniversary that comes in a difficult year for North Korea as the coronavirus pandemic and recent storms put pressure on the heavily sanctioned country.
Pyongyang closed its borders eight months ago to protect itself from the virus, which first emerged in neighboring China, and has yet to confirm a single case.
Last month, troops from the north shot and killed a South Korean fisheries official who appeared to have been driven into its waters as a precaution against the disease, sparking anger and a rare apology from Kim in Seoul.
“Big step forward”
It is widely believed that the North continued to develop its arsenal – which it must protect from a US invasion – during the nuclear negotiations with Washington, which have stalled since the collapse of a summit in Hanoi last February.
Analysts expected a new submarine-fired ballistic missile (SLBM) or ICBM that can reach mainland America could emerge – perhaps even one with multiple re-entry vehicles that could enable US defense systems to evade.
The Labor Party anniversary means that North Korea “has a political and strategic need to do something bigger,” said Sung-yoon Lee, professor of Korean studies at Tufts University in the United States.
The showcase of its most advanced weapons “will mark a great advance in Pyongyang’s credible threat capabilities,” he said.
But unlike on many previous occasions, international media were not allowed to watch the parade, and with many foreign embassies in Pyongyang closing their doors amid coronavirus restrictions, few outside observers stayed in the city.
Foreigners were not welcome at the anniversary celebrations, according to the Russian embassy in Pyongyang, which posted a message from the authorities on its Facebook page asking diplomats and other international officials not to approach the venues or to take photos of them.
The state broadcaster KCTV did not show a live early morning parade and had not broadcast any footage of it by lunchtime.
The north has usually held its parades in the morning and usually broadcasts them in real time or near life, but the last two, both in 2018, were shown either later in the day or the next morning.
A morning schedule announced by KCTV on Saturday included no mention of the parade, but instead included a documentary about Kim Il Sung called “Our Dear Leader” and a cartoon called “Boy General.”
However, the specialist service NK News cited several sources who said they heard sounds of planes, drones and heavy machinery flying past in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Masks and missiles?
In late December, Kim threatened to demonstrate a “new strategic weapon,” but analysts say Pyongyang will continue to act cautiously so as not to jeopardize its chances with Washington ahead of next month’s presidential election.
Showing off its strategic weapons in a military parade “would be in line with what Kim Jong Un promised,” while “the United States would not provoke as much as a test launch of a strategic weapon,” said the former North Korean analyst with the US government. Rachel Lee.
However, Harry Kazianis of the Center for the National Interest warned that if “extreme precautions” are not taken, a “fatal superspreader-like event” could result among thousands of participants.
The impoverished nation’s collapsing healthcare system would struggle to cope with a major virus outbreak, and he added that such protective measures are “quite unlikely”.
“Masks and missiles clearly don’t mix.”
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)