Kim oversees North Korea military parade showcasing new drones, ICBMs

Published July 28, 2023
A view of missile launchers displayed during a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang, North Korea, July 27, 2023, in this image released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency. — Reuters
A view of missile launchers displayed during a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang, North Korea, July 27, 2023, in this image released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency. — Reuters
A view celebrations during a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang, North Korea, July 27, 2023, in this image released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency. — Reuters
A view celebrations during a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang, North Korea, July 27, 2023, in this image released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency. — Reuters

Flanked by visiting Russian and Chinese officials, Kim Jong Un oversaw a North Korean military parade featuring new drones and Pyongyang’s nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles, state media reported on Friday.

At least four new North Korean military drones were towed on trailers through Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square at the parade late on Thursday, state media images showed, while another drone appeared to conduct a flyover overhead.

Standing between Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chinese politburo member Li Hongzhong in the VIP viewing stands, Kim smiled and saluted as thousands of soldiers marched past, trailed by the country’s most powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), which are banned under UN sanctions.

The event, featuring Kim’s first-known foreign guests since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, was to mark the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, which ended open hostilities and is celebrated as Victory Day.

Kim “extended warm militant greetings” to the parade, the official Korean Central News Agency said, and North Korea’s defence minister Kang Sun Nam made a speech.

The United States has no chance “of survival in case they use nuclear weapons against the DPRK”, Kang said, referring to the North by its official name.

He warned that any attempts by the United States to use armed force against the North would cause an “unimaginable and unforeseen crisis”.

The parade featured an array of new weaponry, including some first unveiled at a defence expo on Wednesday in Pyongyang, visited by Kim and Shoigu.

North Korea’s new underwater nuclear attack drone, called the “Haeil”, appeared at the parade for the first time, Seoul-based specialist site NK News reported.

“The strategic reconnaissance drone and the multi-purpose attack drone which was newly developed and produced… made circular flights in the sky above the Kim Il Sung Square,” KCNA said.

The “excitement and great joy of the spectators reached its height” when the nuclear-armed country’s newest ICBM — the solid-fuel Hwasong-18, tested in April and July this year — was paraded through the square, KCNA said.

The tests were roundly condemned by Seoul, Washington and Tokyo, and violated UN sanctions banning the North from any tests using ballistic missile technology.

‘Send the US a signal’

The parade is a key part of “promoting Kim Jong Un’s ruling legitimacy and internal unity in this economically challenging time”, Yangmo Ku, a political science professor at Norwich University, told AFP.

But this year, with the inclusion of high-level guests from Moscow and Beijing, Pyongyang is also sending America “a signal that under strengthened ties with Russia and China, North Korea is militarily ready to cope with strategic threats from its enemies”, he said.

“All these acts mean the emergence of the new Cold War surrounding the Korean Peninsula,” Ku added.

Beijing is North Korea’s most important ally and economic benefactor, their relationship was forged in the bloodshed of the Korean War in the 1950s.

“China’s representation at North Korea’s parading of nuclear-capable missiles raises serious questions about Beijing enabling Pyongyang’s threats to global security,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

Russia, another historic ally, is one of a handful of nations with which Pyongyang maintains friendly relations, and experts said it was noteworthy that Moscow had sent Shoigu to the anniversary celebrations — a rare visit by a Russian defence chief in the post-Soviet era.

Kim has been steadfast in his support for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, including, Washington says, supplying rockets and missiles — a charge Pyongyang has denied.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin sent a speech, read out by Shoigu at an anniversary event, according to KCNA, in which Moscow’s leader hailed North Korea for its “firm support for special military operations against Ukraine”.

Easley said that “given Russia’s need for ammunition for its illegal war in Ukraine and (Kim’s) willingness to personally give the Russian defence minister a tour of North Korea’s arms exhibition, UN member states should increase vigilance for observing and penalising sanctions violations”.

The inclusion of foreign guests at this year’s celebrations is a post-pandemic first and hints at new flexibility towards enforcing border controls.

North Korea has imposed a rigid Covid-19 blockade since early 2020, preventing even its own nationals from entering the country.

It only resumed some trade with China last year and allowed new Beijing envoy Wang Yajun to take up his position this year. He is the first known senior diplomat to cross into North Korea since the border closure in January 2020

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