PYONGYANG, North Korea – North Korea marked the 60th anniversary of the truce that ended the Korean War with a lavish and painstakingly choreographed military parade through Pyongyang’s main square, a solemn gathering led by leader Kim Jong Un at a newly opened war museum that features prominently the USS Pueblo spy ship captured in 1968.
This year’s parade appeared to offer more flash and pageant than new revelations of the secretive North’s military capabilities, though one unit prominently carried kits marked with the bright yellow nuclear symbol, a reminder of the North’s claims that it is preparing itself against a nuclear attack by the United States and is developing a nuclear arsenal of its own.
The extravagant assembly of weapons and goose-stepping troops on Saturday was reminiscent of the marches held by the Soviet Union and China at the height of the Cold War. It is one of the few chances the world gets to see North Korea’s military up close. Although Pyongyang frequently uses the occasion to reveal new, though not always operational, hardware, there didn’t appear to be any major new weapons in Saturday’s parade.
Overlooking a sea of spectators mobilized in Kim Il Sung Square to cheer and wave flags, leader Kim Jong Un saluted his troops from a review stand. He was flanked by senior military officials, the chests of their olive green and white uniforms laden with medals. As fighter jets screamed overhead, a relaxed looking Kim smiled and talked with China’s vice president. China fought with North Korea during the war and is Pyongyang’s only major ally and a crucial source of economic aid. Kim did not make a speech.
Saturday’s parade marked a holiday the North Koreans call “Victory Day in the Fatherland Liberation War,” although the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce and the Korean Peninsula remains technically at war.
Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, said North Korea intended to use the anniversary to highlight Kim Jong Un’s leadership.
“It was a political performance meant to show off that Kim Jong Un remains powerful and strong,” said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.
He said Kim standing side by side China’s vice president was a reminder of the Cold War when North Korea and China stood against South Korea and the U.S., he said. It also indicated that North Korea wants to demonstrate its ties with China are on a path to recovery, which could send a message to the U.S.
Kim’s rule, which began in late 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, has been marked by high tensions with Washington and Seoul. He has overseen two long-range rocket launches and a nuclear test that drew widespread condemnation and tightened U.N. sanctions.
North and South Korea have turned to tentative diplomacy in recent weeks, but March and April saw North Korean threats of nuclear war against Washington and Seoul in response to annual South Korean-U.S. military drills and U.N. condemnation of Pyongyang’s February nuclear test, the country’s third. Long-stalled North Korean nuclear disarmament talks show no sign of resuming.
Last year’s parade in Pyongyang, held to commemorate the April celebrations of the 100th birthday of the late national founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, created a buzz among military watchers when the North rolled out a mysterious long-range missile known abroad as the KN-08. Most outside observers now believe the missiles were mock-ups, but they were carried on mobile launchers that appeared to have been obtained from China, possibly against U.N. arms trade sanctions.
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