North Korea shows off advanced weapons during founder’s birthday parade
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Saturday saluted as ranks of goose-stepping soldiers followed by tanks and other military hardware paraded in Pyongyang for a show of strength with tensions mounting over his nuclear ambitions.
After inspecting an honour guard, Kim, in a black suit, watched the parade pour into Kim Il-sung Square, accompanied by top military and party leaders, state television showed in a live broadcast.
Watch: Massive military parade in Pyongyang
Led by rows of military bands, columns of troops toting rifles and a troupe of sword-wielding female soldiers marched into the vast square in the heart of the city which was festooned in the national colours of blue, white and red.
“Today’s parade will provide a chance to display our powerful military might,” a male voiceover said on the TV broadcast.
Ostensibly the event is to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim’s grandfather, the North’s founder Kim Il-sung – a date known as the “Day of the Sun” in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the country’s official name.
But it is also intended to send an unmistakable message to Washington, Seoul, Tokyo and other capitals about the isolated, nuclear-armed North’s military might.
Pyongyang is under multiple sets of United Nations sanctions over its atomic and ballistic missile programmes, and has ambitions to build a rocket capable of delivering a warhead to the US mainland – something US President Donald Trump has vowed “won’t happen”.
It has carried out five nuclear tests – two of them last year – and multiple missile launches, one of which saw three rockets come down in waters provocatively close to Japan last month.
Speculation that it could conduct a sixth blast in the coming days to coincide with the anniversary has reached fever pitch, with specialist US website 38North describing its Punggye-ri test site as “primed and ready” and White House officials saying military options were “already being assessed”.
Trump has dispatched the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and an accompanying battle group to the Korean peninsula.
“We are sending an armada. Very powerful,” Trump told the Fox Business Network. “He is doing the wrong thing,” he added of Kim. “He’s making a big mistake.”
A senior North Korean government official said the country is ready to stand up to any threat posed by the US as he spoke at Saturday’s parade.
Choe Ryong-hae, who some presume as the second-most powerful official in North Korea, said the new US government under Trump was “creating a war situation” in the Korean Peninsula by dispatching the fleet.
“We will respond to an all-out war with an all-out war and a nuclear war with our style of a nuclear attack,” Choe said.
China, the North’s sole major ally, and Russia have both urged restraint, with Beijing’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi warning on Friday that “conflict could break out at any moment”.
North Korean television showed what appeared to be several KN-08 and KN-14 missiles rolled out on trucks at the parade. Military analysts say the missiles could one day be capable of hitting targets as far as the continental United States, although the North has yet to flight test them.
North Korean soldiers also rolled out what appeared to be another large rocket covered by a canister. An official from South Korea’s Defence Ministry couldn’t immediately confirm whether the rocket was a new ICBM.
Other military hardware at the parade included tanks, multiple rocket launchers and artillery guns, as well as a solid fuel missile designed to be fired from submarines. Also on display was a powerful mid-range missile that outside analysts call a “Musudan,” and which can potentially reach U.S. air bases in Guam, as well as a new solid fuel mid-range missile that can be fired from mobile launchers.
Military planes flew in formation, creating the number “105” above Kim Il-sung Square.
The 1950-53 Korean war ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty and Pyongyang says that it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against a possible US invasion.
The US cruise missile strike on Syria vindicated its stance, it said last weekend.
According to diplomats, North Korean officials have described the US president as “unpredictable” and been unnerved by his comments and actions.
Pyongyang could use the parade as a show of strength in preference to a nuclear test, analysts said.
It wanted to send “a tough message to the United States in response to the Trump administration’s recent rhetoric and the military steps the United States has taken”, said Evans Revere of the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Another missile launch or nuclear test “can’t be ruled out”, he said, but the Syria strike and Washington’s implied threats “may give Pyongyang some pause”.
“A parade is a highly visible but non-kinetic way of showing off capabilities,” he said.
The North is aiming its message at China as well as the US, analysts say.
Beijing has made clear its frustration with Pyongyang’s stubbornness but its priority remains preventing any instability on its doorstep, and it has been unnerved by the sabre-rattling.
Pyongyang was “upset with all of its neighbours”, said Bruce Bennett of the Rand Organisation and Kim needs to “demonstrate defiance”.
North Korean culture is that its leaders “are supposed to reign by power”, he said. “He cannot back down without looking weak and thereby facing the prospect of a coup.”
Additional reporting by Associated Press