North Korea’s Kim stages massive parade to mark major holiday – but doesn’t show off military hardware

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over a huge civilian parade in Pyongyang on Friday to mark the 110th birth anniversary of his state-founding grandfather, Kim Il-sung.

Images showed Mr Kim marking North Korea’s biggest annual holiday by waving to the crowds from a balcony overlooking Kim Il-sung Square, as people carrying red plastic flowers and floats with political slogans marched below.

State media reports on the events indicate Mr Kim chose to forego the expected showcase of new military hardware, amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula over North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Commercial satellite images in recent weeks have indicated preparations for a large military parade in Pyongyang, which experts now suggest could in fact take place on the founding anniversary of North Korea’s army, on 25 April.

That parade will reportedly showcase the most advanced weapons in Mr Kim’s nuclear arsenal, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

There’s also an expectation that Pyongyang will continue to escalate its weapons testing, possibly including a resumption of nuclear explosive tests or test-flying missiles over Japan, in the near future to force a response from US president Joe Biden’s administration and renewed talks aimed at removing crippling economic sanctions on the east Asian country.

North Korea has also recently summarized its trademark harsh rhetoric against its rivals. One of its international affairs commentators labeled US president Joe Biden “an old man in senility”, while Mr Kim’s sister Kim Yo-jong called South Korea’s defense minister “a scum-like guy” and threatened to annihilate the country with nuclear strikes.

North Korea Birth Anniversary

(KCNA via KNS)

North Korea began 2022 with a slew of weapons tests, including its first flight test of an ICBM in five years, though there were doubts raised internationally over North Korea’s claim to have launched a brand new, massive missile type.

South Korea’s military has also detected signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground it partially dismantled weeks before Mr Kim’s first summit with former US president Donald Trump in June 2018.

The choice of state propaganda around Kim Il-sung’s birthday and the lack of military hardware on display “does not represent a shift away from North Korea’s military build-up”, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University inSeoul.

“Kim Jong-un’s stated goal of deploying tactical nuclear weapons, Kim Yo-jong’s recent threats toward Seoul and satellite imagery of tunneling activity at Punggye-ri all point to an upcoming nuclear test,” he said.

Experts believe Mr Kim’s displays of North Korea’s military might are also likely to be motivated by domestic politics since, without these, he doesn’t have enough significant accomplishments to bank on after a decade in power.

His stated goals of simultaneously developing nuclear weapons and bringing economic prosperity to his impoverished populace derailed after the collapse of his second summit with Mr Trump in 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a limited surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

The Covid-19 pandemic wreaked further havoc on North Korea’s broken economy, forcing Mr Kim to acknowledge last year that the country was facing its “worst-ever situation”.

Additional reporting by agencies

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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