North Korea’s 70th is light on fire­power

Cel­e­bra­tions more sub­dued than usual as US talks con­tinue

The Guardian Weekly - - International News - Ben­jamin Haas and agen­cies Sol­diers dur­ing a mil­i­tary pa­rade in Pyongyang mark­ing the 70th an­niver­sary of North Korea’s foun­da­tion

North Korea staged a huge mil­i­tary pa­rade last Sun­day to mark 70 years since the coun­try’s found­ing, but avoided jeop­ar­dis­ing on­go­ing talks with the United States by not dis­play­ing its most pow­er­ful weapons and mak­ing no men­tion of its nu­clear pro­gramme.

The coun­try’s leader, Kim Jongun, at­tended the march, but did not ad­dress the crowd which was es­ti­mated to be about 50,000, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press and CNN. Kim Yong-nam, head of North Korea’s par­lia­ment, de­liv­ered a speech that fo­cused on the econ­omy.

Kim Jong-un watched the pa­rade with the head of China’s par­lia­ment, Li Zhan­shu, and “they locked hands and raised arms at the end”, CNN re­ported. The speaker of the Rus­sian par­lia­ment’s up­per house, Valentina Matvienko, also at­tended.

The US pres­i­dent, Don­ald Trump, saluted Kim last Sun­day for hold­ing the pa­rade “with­out the cus­tom­ary dis­play of nu­clear mis­siles”.

Trump tweeted: “This is a big and very pos­i­tive state­ment from North Korea. Thank you to Chair­man Kim. We will both prove ev­ery­one wrong! There is noth­ing like good di­a­logue from two peo­ple that like each other! Much bet­ter than be­fore I took of­fice.”

About 12,000 mostly goose-step­ping sol­diers took part in the dis­play of mar­tial might that did not in­clude in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic or medium-range mis­siles. North Korea has claimed its ICBMs are ca­pa­ble of strik­ing the US main­land and their ap­pear­ance at the pa­rade would have been seen as a provo­ca­tion.

North Korea reg­u­larly holds mil­i­tary pa­rades, but this event was far more sub­dued com­pared with those in the past, likely to avoid an­ger­ing the US as ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tinue over the North’s nu­clear weapons pro­gramme. Talks have stalled since Kim Jongun and Don­ald Trump met in June, with the US de­mand­ing uni­lat­eral de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion be­fore it makes any con­ces­sions and North Korea re­quir­ing se­cu­rity guar­an­tees, in­clud­ing a for­mal peace treaty for the 1950-53 Korean war.

Some tanks fea­tured anti-Amer­i­can slo­gans, as in past years, in­clud­ing one that read: “Destroy the US im­pe­ri­al­ist aggressors! The sworn en­emy of the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea,” ac­cord­ing to a photo from the NK News web­site that re­ferred to North Korea by its for­mal name.

Af­ter a smaller pa­rade fea­tur­ing tanks, fewer than the usual num­ber of mis­siles and lots of goose-step­ping units from all branches of the mil­i­tary, along with some stu­dents and oth­ers, the fo­cus switched to civil­ian groups, rang­ing from nurses to con­struc­tion work­ers, many with colour­ful floats be­side them.

The “new line” of putting eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment first has been Kim’s top pri­or­ity this year. He claims to have per­fected his nu­clear ar­se­nal enough to de­ter US ag­gres­sion and de­vote his re­sources to rais­ing the na­tion’s stan­dard of liv­ing.

This year’s cel­e­bra­tions also mark the re­vival of North Korea’s mass games af­ter a five-year hia­tus. The mass games in­volve tens of thou­sands of peo­ple hold­ing up plac­ards or danc­ing in pre­cise uni­son and are in­tended to be a dis­play of na­tional unity.

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