Parade in Pyongyang a step back from brink, say analysts in China

North Korea shows off missiles but refrains from testing them or nuclear arsenal, in what is seen as bid to cool tensions with the US

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 April, 2017, 11:23pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 April, 2017, 2:33am

North Korea refrained from conducting a nuclear test to mark a national celebration on Saturday, instead holding a military parade seen as a sign of defiance but also of restraint.

The move came amid high tensions with Washington, after US President Donald Trump threatened military action over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme and with two US aircraft carrier groupssent to the peninsula.

North Korea marked the 105th birth anniversary of its late founding father, Kim Il-sung, with the parade, which involved the display of a new type of submarine-launched missile.

“North Korea is now under immense pressure, especially from the US, and Pyongyang wanted to show a united front without making another nuclear test, a move deemed intolerable by the international community and that might trigger military conflict,” said Cui Zhiying, a Korean affairs specialist from Tongji University in Shanghai.

Xu Guangyu, a former general and a researcher at the Beijing-based China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said the North’s choice of a missile display rather than a nuclear test showed that Pyongyang was not slackening in showcasing its military power or in “its capability to fight back when necessary”.

In pictures: North Korea shows off weaponry during late founder Kim Il-sung’s 105th birthday parade

“And the parade itself can be seen as restraint. It is reluctant to fire the first shot and shoulder the responsibility for provoking conflict on the peninsula,” he said.

But analysts also warned that North Korean might conduct another nuclear test in the future.

“No nuclear test on Kim Il-sung’s birthday does not mean that there won’t be any nuclear tests in the future; it can only be seen as a step back from a provocative posture,” said Zhou Chenming, a military observer from the Knowfar Institute for Strategic and Defence Studies in Jiangyin, Jiangsu province.

Cui echoed this view, saying the North was unlikely to conduct a nuclear test in the near future but “would make its calculations according to the development of international affairs”.

Unlike at some previous parades attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, there did not appear to be a senior Chinese official in attendance. China is North Korea’s lone major ally but has spoken out against its missile and nuclear tests and has supported UN sanctions.

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To cool the tensions, Beijing also sought help from Russia.

“China is ready to coordinate closely with Russia to help cool down as quickly as possible the situation on the peninsula and encourage the parties concerned to resume dialogue,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, in a call late on Friday.

Wang also warned North Korean and the US that if they let war break out, both sides “shoulder that historical culpability and pay the corresponding price”.

Meanwhile, state-owned China International Travel Services, Ctrip.com International – China’s leading online travel website – and many other Chinese tour operators have halted travel to North Korea.

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Air China, the country’s only carrier with regular service to North Korea, also temporarily cancelled some flights based on poor ticket sales, the airline said on Friday.

Pyongyang residents were “calm”, said a Hong Kong tour guide who returned from North Korea on Friday. “There were many missiles and tanks and soldiers the night before the parade, but citizens remained calm,” said the tour guide, who did not want to be named. “During the last few days, people were mobilised to Kim Il-Sung Square to rehearse for the big day.”

There were “not too many” special arrangements apart from road closures to facilitate a Pyongyang marathon, he added.

Additional reporting by Frank Tang and Stuart Lau