When North Korea marks one of its biggest holidays this weekend, the world will be watching closely for signs of the secretive country’s next moves at home and overseas. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is expected to use celebrations for the 75th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers‘ Party of Korea on Saturday to show off the regime’s military might and bolster his standing at a time of economic hardship and isolation. The events are anticipated to include a large military parade in the capital, Pyongyang, that observers speculate could be used to unveil an unspecified “new strategic weapon” first referred to by the third-generation dictator late last year. The anniversary comes as Kim grapples with the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic and devastating typhoons, after earlier this year making a rare admission that living standards had not “improved remarkably” despite his five-year economic plan. The North’s fragile economy grew just 0.4 per cent in 2019, according to an estimate by South Korea’s central bank, its first positive growth in three years. More than 40 per cent of the population are undernourished, according to UN estimates. Ahead of a ruling party congress in January that will outline a new five-plan, Kim on Monday vowed not to “rest on our laurels” and proposed an “80-day battle” to attain the country’s remaining goals for the year. Jenny Town, deputy director of 38 North, a programme affiliated with the Washington-based Stimson Centre, said Kim was facing extraordinary challenges and had “shown attempts to raise morale throughout these tough times, such as praising workers for their tireless contributions and efforts, and portraying projects like the Pyongyang General Hospital and Sunchon Fertilizer Factory as the party’s gifts to the people to better their lives.” Will Kim Jong-un’s sister really take over North Korea if he dies? “How convincing those messages have been is uncertain,” Town said. “But one would expect then the anniversary events on the 10th to try to convey a similar message: that despite current hardships, the country is strong and has persisted against all odds, using the military parade to reinforce that sentiment.” Michael Madden, a non-resident fellow at the Stimson Center, said that while he did not expect Kim to make any major policy announcements before the annual party congress, the North Korean leader could outline some ideas about the direction of the country. “In the event he does deliver a speech then he might articulate certain aspirations or ideas,” Madden said. “This is an historical anniversary so the rhetoric one is going to hear will focus on the party and the two previous leaders.” While it is unclear exactly what is planned for the celebrations, satellite images indicate preparations have been under way for a major military parade. Untested missiles – or their replicas – have been displayed during such events before, including the KN-14, a previously unseen intercontinental ballistic missile, which was unveiled during the last major anniversary of the ruling party in 2015. Since taking power following the death of his father Kim Jong-il in 2011, Kim has overseen the rapid development of the regime’s weapons capabilities, including four nuclear tests and several launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the United States. “Showcasing untested missile technology is common during the parades, and we may see a return to the country doing so again for its advancements in intercontinental range technology,” said Jaewoo Shin, an analyst at the Open Nuclear Network. North Korea tells UN it now has ‘effective war deterrent’ “Another example is when missile canister models were showcased in the 2017 parade. These were indicative of solid-fuel intermediate or intercontinental range missile projects in development and we may see an update on those in the upcoming parade.” The anniversary celebrations could also contain clues as to the future direction of the North’s relations with the US, its main adversary, weeks before it votes for its next president. Rapprochement between Kim and US President Donald Trump remains on ice after two high-profile summits between the leaders failed to make tangible progress towards the North’s nuclear disarmament. While Trump in July said he was open to a third summit, Kim Yo-jong, the North Korean leader’s influential sister, said such a meeting would “not be useful” without a change in Washington’s approach to negotiations. Trump and Kim’s second summit in Hanoi last year broke down after the two sides could not agree on the level of sanctions relief in return for the dismantling of some nuclear facilities. Will North Korea’s killing of a South Korean eclipse Moon’s dream? Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate and strong front runner, has strongly criticised Trump’s summits with Kim and said he would not meet the dictator without preconditions. Town said that while the anniversary celebrations will be “very focused on emphasising the relationship of the party to the people, if a ‘new strategic weapon’ is showcased, it will serve as a reminder to what’s at stake” for US-North Korea relations: “That in the absence of a deal, North Korea continues to develop its defences.” Lim Jae-cheon, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University in Seoul, said that although issues like the economy and preparations for the upcoming ruling party congress would dominate the celebrations, he expected the regime to unveil new weapons as one way to revive the “stagnant nuclear talks”.