North Korea has staged a huge military parade that focussed on peace and development to mark its 70th anniversary as a nation, but refrained from displaying its most advanced missiles.
A sea of spectators watched the parade on Sunday as tens of thousands goose-stepping soldiers and columns of tanks drove past a rostrum where leader Kim Jong Un took the salute.
Li Zhanshu, one of the seven members of the Chinese Communist party’s Politburo Standing Committee, the country’s most powerful body, sat next to Kim in Pyongyang’s Kim II Sung Square.
The parade featured armoured personnel carriers, multiple rocket launchers and tanks, and biplanes that flew overhead in a ’70’ formation.
|Thousands of goose-stepping soldiers paraded past a review stand where Kim Jong Un took the salute [Ed Jones/AFP]
At one point jets trailing red, white and blue smoke – the colours of the North Korean flag – roared above the Juche Tower, the stone monument to the country’s founder Kim Il Sung’s political philosophy.
Finally came the missiles, the traditional climax of the parades. But the only ones on show were the blue Kumsong-3, an anti-ship cruise missile, and the Pongae-5 surface-to-air weapon.
There was no sign of the Hwasong-14 and -15 missiles that can reach the mainland United States and changed the strategic balance when they were first tested last year.
And there were no nuclear tests to mark the day, as has happened in each of the last two years.
|The parade featured armoured personnel carriers, multiple rocket launchers and tanks [Ed Jones/AFP]
“It looks like the North Koreans really tried to tone down the military nature of this,” said Chad O’Carroll, managing director of Korea Risk Group.
“There was no display of ICBMs, IRBMs (intermediate-range ballistic missiles), which would really not have sat well with the whole idea that North Korea is committed to ultimate denuclearisation. So I think it will be well received,” he told AFP news agency.
North Korea routinely uses major holidays to showcase its military capabilities and the latest developments in missile technology.
But that has been dropped this year, underlining Kim’s stated aim for denuclearising the Korean peninsula and his recent meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and summits with US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Xi declined to attend the celebrations in Pyongyang, and sent Li instead, a move analysts say could indicate Beijing still has some reservations about Kim’s initiatives.
Kim was seen laughing and holding hands up with the Chinese special envoy as he oversaw the festivities. He waved to the crowd before leaving but did not make any public remarks.
|Thousands of civilians walked through the square waving bouquets [Ed Jones/AFP]
The theme for the celebrations this year was unifying the Korean peninsula, divided since the 1950-53 Korean War.
Immediately after the parade thousands of citizens walked through the square, escorting floats displaying economic themes and calls for Korean reunification.
In warm sunshine, the marchers waved bouquets and flags and chanted “Long live” to the leader.
“All Koreans should join forces to accomplish unification in our generation. Unification is the only way Koreans can survive,” said an editorial in North Korea’s party newspaper Rodong Sinmun.
Kim and Moon will meet in Pyongyang on September 18-20 for the third time this year and discuss “practical measures” towards denuclearisation, officials in Seoul have said.
North Korea’s 70th anniversary celebrations also include iconic mass games that Pyongyang is organising for the first time in five years.
The Arirang Mass Games is a huge, nationalist pageant performed by up to 100,000 people in one of the world’s largest stadiums.