Publish: 10 Oct 2020, 11:01 am
It was planned that nuclear-armed North Korea will parade its newest and most sophisticated missiles through the streets of Pyongyang.
On Saturday, the coronavirus-barricaded nation celebrated the 75th anniversary of the governing party of Leader Kim Jong Un, reports AFP.
On Thursday, the Minister of Unification of South Korea told Parliament that a "large-scale parade" was planned, and satellite images on the respected 38North website have indicated that the cavalcade could be enormous.
As the coronavirus pandemic and recent storms add pressure to the heavily sanctioned country, the anniversary comes during a tough year for North Korea.
Eight months ago, Pyongyang closed its borders to try to protect itself from the virus that first appeared in neighbouring China and has yet to report a single case.
Last month, a South Korean fisheries officer who had drifted into its waters, apparently as a precaution against sickness, causing fury in Seoul and a rare apology from Kim, was shot dead by soldiers from the North.
Nonetheless, under the gaze of his grandson, the third family member to rule the country, thousands of goose-stepping soldiers were expected to pack into Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square, named for North Korea 's founder.
A procession of progressively larger armoured vehicles and tanks was anticipated to follow, culminating with whatever missiles Pyongyang wanted to display.
– ‘Big step forward’ –
The activities normally involve a speech by a dignitary, and the government of the South noticed indications that Kim was going to address the crowd, Yonhap news agency reported citing unidentified sources on Friday.
Throughout the nuclear talks with Washington, deadlocked after the failure of a summit in Hanoi in February last year, the North is generally believed to have continued to build its arsenal, which it claims it needs to defend itself from a US invasion.
Analysts now expect the existence of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) or an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the US mainland, maybe even one with multiple re-entry vehicle capabilities that could enable US defense systems to be evaded.
The anniversary of the Workers’ Party means North Korea “has a political and strategic need to do something bigger”, said Sung-yoon Lee, a Korean studies professor at Tufts University in the United States.
Showcasing the most sophisticated missiles "would signal a significant step forward in the credible threat capabilities of Pyongyang," he said.
But unlike on many previous occasions, no international media were permitted to watch the parade, and with many foreign embassies closing their doors in Pyongyang in the face of coronavirus restrictions, few outside observers remain in the region.
According to the Russian embassy in Pyongyang, which posted a message from the authorities on its Facebook page urging diplomats and other international representatives not to "approach or take pictures" of commemoration sites, foreigners were not welcome at the parade.
It seemed that the event would not be seen live by state broadcaster KCTV, as the program still began at 10 am local time (0100 GMT) when it did so.
The North’s two most recent parades, both in 2018, were shown later the same day and the next morning.
A morning schedule announced by KCTV on Saturday included a documentary about Kim Il Sung titled “Our Dear Leader”, a cartoon called “Boy General”, and a programme on the North’s waterfalls.
– Masks and missiles? –
Kim vowed to demonstrate a "new strategic tool" at the end of December, but analysts say Pyongyang would still tread cautiously to avoid jeopardizing its chances with Washington ahead of the presidential election next month.
In a military parade, showing off its strategic weapons "will be consistent with what Kim Jong Un promised," while "not provoking the United States as much as a strategic weapon test-launch," said former North Korea analyst Rachel Lee of the US government.
But Harry Kazianis of the Center for National Interest cautioned that it might turn into a "deadly superspreader-like case" with thousands of people involved, unless "extreme measures" were used.
The collapsing health system of the impoverished nation will fail to cope with a major virus outbreak, and he added that such preventive measures seemed "pretty unlikely."
“Clearly, masks and missiles don’t mix.”