North Korea celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Korean war armistice yesterday with a massive military parade attended by a high-level delegation from its most important ally, China.
Leader Kim Jong-un was joined by Vice-President Li Yuanchao on the podium overlooking Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung Square to inspect tanks, mobile missile launchers and goose-stepping soldiers.
A smiling Li stood next to Kim during the two-hour parade, making friendly exchanges through an interpreter. Analysts said the appearance of Li and other top Chinese officials was intended to send a political message that Beijing would not give up its long-time alliance with North Korea.
A day earlier, Kim greeted Li with a warm hug before a meeting in which the vice-president reiterated Beijing's goal to remove nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula.
The last time a senior Chinese official attended an armistice commemoration was 20 years ago. Then, Hu Jintao was sent in his capacity as a member of the secretariat of the Communist Party's Central Committee.
"Now the message is clear … they will still keep a friendship, but Beijing will not allow Pyongyang to … jeopardise regional peace and stability," said Professor Wang Fan of Beijing Foreign Affairs University.
Chinese veterans took part in the parade, holding up slogans about "resisting the US aggression and aiding Korea".
Vice-Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, Kim's chief military aide and the key political man behind the 1.2-million-strong army, said North Korea sought peace as a top priority, but that "reality shows if peace is sought, there must be preparations for war".
Analysts said the chance of Pyongyang giving up its nuclear weapons programme was slim. Soldiers were seen carrying shields with a nuclear sign in one of the formations, although it is unclear whether they belonged to a nuclear weapons unit.
Cai Jian , deputy director of Fudan University's Centre for Korean Studies, said: "Showing their nuclear weapons is aimed at telling the world that developing nuclear weapons is the core defence strategy for North Korea."
In South Korea, President Park Geun-hye invited 4,000 war veterans and diplomats to mark the anniversary. "It's time to end confrontation and hostility and make a new Korea peninsula, opening an era of peace and hope," Park said on her office's website. "North Korea must give up nuclear development and allow changes to ensure their people's living and freedom."
In Washington, US President Barack Obama was to mark the anniversary at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
Additional reporting by Reuters, Associated Press, Bloomberg