September 9, 2021 9:18:00 am
South Korea’s military says it believes North Korea staged an overnight military parade at its capital, Pyongyang.
The North’s display of military might would likely be a measured attempt at pressuring the Biden administration over a freeze in nuclear diplomacy after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un failed to leverage his arsenal for economic benefits during the Trump years.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday it was closely monitoring North Korea after detecting signs of a military parade, which was possibly the “main event,” not a rehearsal.
It wasn’t immediately clear what kinds of weapons were showcased or whether Kim participated in the event, which would have been staged to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the country’s founding.
There were no immediate reports of a military parade in North Korean state media Thursday morning. The North didn’t provide live TV coverage during previous nighttime parades in January and October last year and aired a taped broadcast hours later.
North Korea often celebrates major state anniversaries by rolling out thousands of goose-stepping troops and its most advanced military hardware at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square, named after Kim’s state-founding grandfather.
In January, North Korea showcased new missiles being developed to be fired from submarines as it celebrated the closure of a Workers’ Party’s congress, where Kim vowed to expand his nuclear weapons program in the face of what he described as U.S. hostility.
During last October’s parade, the North unveiled its biggest-yet intercontinental ballistic missile while marking the ruling party’s 75th anniversary. The North’s previous ICBMs demonstrated the potential to reach the U.S. mainland during flight tests in 2017.
Washington and Pyongyang have yet to recover from the collapse of a summit between Kim and former President Donald Trump in 2019, when the Americans rejected the North’s demand for a major easing of economic sanctions in exchange for a partial reduction of its nuclear capabilities.
Kim has since pledged to bolster his country’s nuclear deterrent and has so far rejected the Biden administration’s overtures for talks, demanding that Washington abandon its “hostile” policies first.
But experts say Kim is now facing perhaps his toughest moment as he approaches a decade in rule, with North Korea maintaining a border lockdown indefinitely to keep out the coronavirus and with no prospect in sight to end international sanctions.
The atmosphere for diplomacy deteriorated further last month when Kim’s powerful sister released a statement berating the United States and South Korea for continuing their combined military exercises, which she said were the “most vivid expression of the U.S. hostile policy.”
She said the North will work faster to strengthen its preemptive strike capabilities while another senior North Korean official released a separate statement threatening unspecified countermeasures that would leave the allies facing a “security crisis.”
The allies say the drills are defensive in nature, but they have canceled or downsized them in recent years to create space for diplomacy or in response to COVID-19.