Kim Jong-un gets his kicks but rockets absent at North Korea's 70th birthday bash
North Korea on Sunday marked the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding with a parade of goose-stepping soldiers, tanks and military hardware, but it held back on displaying its intercontinental ballistic missiles, believed to be capable of hitting the United States.
The parade was considerably more muted than the bombast seen in previous years and much of the mass public event was devoted to lauding civilian efforts to strengthen the local economy.
Analysts said the switch in focus and absence of the usual visual jingoism not only underscored leader Kim Jong-un’s strong emphasis on the economy but could also be interpreted as a conciliatory gesture towards Washington.
Sunday morning’s parade came amid stalled diplomatic talks with the US over the issue of denuclearisation.
It had been feared that the appearance of advanced missiles would have been viewed as a provocation by the Trump administration and could have destabilised the uneasy détente that has existed since the two countries’ leaders met at a historic June summit in Singapore.
Washington and Pyongyang have reached an impasse over the starting point for disarmament. The US wants Kim to proceed with denuclearisation first, but North Korea wants its security guaranteed and a peace agreement to formally end the Korean War of 1950-53.
However, the stalemate has been showing signs of softening in recent days. On Friday President Trump told reporters on Air Force One that a personal letter from Kim Jong-un was going to be delivered soon. “I think it’s going to be a positive letter,” he predicted.
Earlier the president had tweeted his thanks to Kim for his “unwavering faith” in him, adding “We will get it done together!” in reference to denuclearisation.
“Kim and Trump are trading gestures to appease the US Congress and show to the world that the deal is on. And, indeed, the deal is on but Kim will not fully denuclearise,” North Korea analyst Loretta Napoleoni told The Telegraph.
Analysts have repeatedly warned that despite the current thaw on the Korean Peninsula, Kim has never committed to fully surrendering his nuclear weapons.
Jeffrey Lewis, a nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, tweeted that the understated nature of the Pyongyang parade indicated that North Korea “wants a version of the Israel deal.”
He explained: “They don’t test nuclear weapons or show them off at parades; we pretend they don’t exist.”
According to reporters at the scene, the parade was split into two sections, civilian and military. The military segment featured soldiers wearing uniforms from different periods of national history, then switching to civilian groups, ranging from nurses to construction workers alongside colourful floats.
Kim surveyed the procession from a balcony in Kim Il Sung square, at times locking hands with Li Zhanshu, a senior envoy sent by Xi Jinping, the Chinese president.
Foreign delegations from Russia, Syria, Vietnam and African nations reflected Kim’s concerted push this year in terms of promoting his own personal diplomacy and trying to cultivate a more statesman-like image.
In a break from recent tradition, he did not address the crowd. Instead Kim Yong-nam, the country’s ceremonial head of state told the audience that North Korea had achieved status as a military power, and would now pursue efforts to strengthen its economy.
The anniversary celebrations also mark the revival of North Korea's iconic mass games after a five-year hiatus. The mass games involve tens of thousands of people performing precisely choreographed dancing in a symbol of national unity.
This year's spectacle - tickets start at just over $100 and go up to more than $800 per seat - also has a strong economic theme.