North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared that his country was ready to stand up to any threat posed by the United States as he spoke at a lavish military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the North’s ruling party.
The parade, which featured thousands of goose-stepping soldiers and a display of some of North Korea’s military arsenal, kicked off what is expected to be one of the North’s biggest celebrations ever – an event that is the government’s way of showing the world and its own people that the Kim dynasty is firmly in control and its military a power to be reckoned with.
Kim, clad in black, walked down a red carpet and saluted his honour guard. He then walked up to a podium and waved to the troops taking part in the parade in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square. Visiting Chinese official Liu Yunshan stood clapping to Kim’s left, with senior North Korean officials on Kim’s right. Kim smiled as he spoke with Liu through a translator.
Kim then delivered a speech in which he said North Korea would stand up to the US, issuing the type of fiery rhetoric that is commonly used by the North.
“Our revolutionary force is ready to respond to any kind of war the American imperialists want,” said Kim, whose speech was interrupted by applause several times.
“Through the line of Songun (military-first) politics, our Korean People’s Army has become the strongest revolutionary force and our country has become an impenetrable fortress and a global military power,” he said.
After his speech, thousands of soldiers help up coloured cards to spell out “Songun politics” and “Defending our homeland”.
The parade could hold some surprises for analysts abroad who were watching its display of weaponry very closely, particularly North Korea’s growing fleet of drone aircraft and long-range missiles.
The guest list was less impressive.
While no world leaders attended – North Korean ally China sent Liu, a senior Communist Party official, not its head of state, or even vice premier – the normally isolated and quiet North Korean capital has been flooded by tourists, international media and delegations ranging from ethnic Koreans living abroad to obscure Russian and Mongolian groups dedicated to studying North Korea’s political ideas.
As the clock struck midnight, Kim marked the anniversary by paying respect to both his late father and grandfather at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA.
Even though North Korean officials did not divulge details of the celebration plans in advance, open-source satellite imagery has been monitoring large-scale troop activities at the Mirim military air base in Pyongyang, which has been rigged with a mock-up of Kim Il Sung Square. Masses of Pyongyang citizens have for weeks been out in public plazas across the city practising their roles for a torchlight parade in the evening.
For the finale, a stage was set up on a river running through central Pyongyang for a late-night concert featuring North Korea’s most popular musical group, the all-female Moranbong Band.
The spectacle promised to be the most elaborate since Kim assumed power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in late 2011, and the satellite imagery suggests the military parade could be the country’s biggest ever.
Though military parades were out of fashion until about a decade ago, North Korea’s leadership often uses anniversaries to rally the nation behind the military or the party, while at the same time reinforcing the primacy of the leader himself.