North Korea may have held a massive military parade around dawn Saturday, according to South Korea’s military, amid expectations it might use the event to unveil a major new weapon.
Signs indicate North Korea “mobilized a large-scale amount of equipment and personnel” in the early morning hours of Saturday in Pyongyang’s central Kim Il Sung Square, according to a statement from South Korea’s National Defense Ministry.
North Korea had been expected to use the parade to display a new weapon, such as an intercontinental or submarine-launched ballistic missile. At the beginning of the year, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised to unveil a “new strategic weapon.”
Displaying a weapon at a parade, rather than by staging a test launch, might be a less provocative way for Pyongyang to demonstrate its military capabilities. U.S. President Donald Trump has warned Kim against any major provocations near the Nov. 3 U.S. election.
As of mid-afternoon Saturday, North Korean state television had not begun broadcasting the parade, which marks the 75th anniversary of its ruling political party. Often such broadcasts are tape-delayed; other times they are broadcast live.
NK News, a Seoul-based website with contacts in North Korea, reported that loud noises could be heard in Pyongyang around midnight. The noises, which included aircraft, heavy machinery, and fireworks, could be heard through early morning, the website reported.
South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials have been closely tracking the reports and are trying to determine whether the middle-of-the night event was a rehearsal or the actual parade, according to South Korea’s military.
North Korea often holds military parades on major political anniversaries. But it would be unusual to hold a parade in the middle of the night. Doing so might obscure the view of North Korea watchers, who closely monitor such events to see signs of new North Korean weapons development.
North Korea has been preparing for the parade for weeks, according to satellite images of a training site on Pyongyang’s outskirts.
The event was set to be a major celebration of Kim’s accomplishments of the past five years, although the country is actually facing significant challenges.
International sanctions continue to batter North Korea’s economy, after the U.S.-North Korea nuclear talks in 2018 and 2019 failed to reach the point of permitting sanctions relief.
North Korea also saw a much worse than usual typhoon and monsoon season, leaving crops devastated and thousands of homes destroyed.
Its economy has also been hit hard by strict anti-pandemic measures, including border closures, that have sharply reduced trade with neighbor and economic lifeline China.
Faced with such hardships, a parade might be meant to boost national pride and domestic solidarity, analysts say.
“This is particularly important when policy errors, natural disasters, international sanctions and the global pandemic have caused the Kim regime to fall short of its economic promises,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“Due to unmet economic ambitions and unfinished construction projects, the 75th Workers’ Party anniversary is perhaps not everything Kim envisioned. But it is an impressively large gathering during a global pandemic, suggesting North Korean authorities are concerned more with political history and national morale than with preventing a COVID-19 superspreader event,” Easley said.
Voice of America – English