North Korea “appeared to have staged” a large-scale military parade, South Korea said on Saturday, amid expectations that it would showcase new strategic weapons to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.
“Signs have been detected that North Korea conducted a military parade at the Kim Il-sung square at dawn by mobilising a large number of equipment and personnel,” Yonhap news agency reported, citing a brief statement form the south’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“South Korean and US intelligence authorities have been analysing (the event), including the possibility that it could be the main event, (not a rehearsal),” it added.
Earlier, an official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles North Korean affairs, said the government was monitoring developments in Pyongyang, but there had been no broadcast of any parade on state media.
For weeks, commercial satellite imagery has shown thousands of North Korean soldiers practising marching and South Korean officials have said the North could use a parade to unveil a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), or a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
The last time North Korea broadcast a military parade live on television was in 2017 when it showed off a number of large ICBMs amid heightened tension with the United States.
The missiles were paraded again in February 2018, but no international media outlets were allowed to observe and the event – to mark the 70th anniversary of the state’s founding, was not broadcast live. State television aired recorded footage later. Shortly afterwards, Kim began a flurry of diplomacy including meeting international leaders such as US President Donald Trump. While no large missiles have been displayed since, the country undertook a series of test launches late last year and Kim promised a “new strategic weapon” in his New Year’s speech. Denuclearisation talks with Washington have broken down and South Korean officials said on Thursday that Kim could use the military parade as a “low intensity” show of power ahead of the US presidential election in November.
In a congratulatory message to Kim for the anniversary, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he intended to “defend, consolidate and develop” ties with North Korea, its state media said on Saturday.
According to KCNA, Xi said he was “greatly pleased” with the achievements that North Korea had made in recent years by engaging with foreign countries in the face of hardships and challenges.
After years of cool relations during which China joined the US and other nations in imposing sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, Xi and Kim met five times in 2018 and 2019.
While North Korea says it has had no confirmed cases of COVID-19, strict border closures and other measures it imposed to prevent an outbreak have further strained its economy, which is heavily reliant on trade with China.