North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared Saturday that his country was ready to stand up to any threat posed by the United States as he spoke at a lavish military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the North's ruling party and trumpet his third-generation leadership.
The parade, which featured thousands of goose-stepping soldiers and military hardware including missiles and drones mounted on trucks, kicked off what is expected to be one of the North's biggest celebrations ever – an attention-getting event that is the government's way of showing the world and its own people that the Kim dynasty is firmly in control and its military a power to be reckoned with.
Kim walked down a red carpet and saluted his honour guard before walking up to a podium to deliver a speech laced with the fiery rhetoric that is commonly used by the communist regime.
"Our revolutionary force is ready to respond to any kind of war the American imperialists want," said Kim, flanked by visiting Chinese official Liu Yunshan and senior North Korean officials.
"Through the line of Songun (military-first) politics, our Korean People's Army has become the strongest revolutionary force and our country has become an impenetrable fortress and a global military power," he said, interrupted by applause several times.
Kim didn't specifically comment on North Korea's nuclear or long-range missile capabilities and also didn't have anything to say about relations with rival South Korea. He spent most of his speech arguing that the party has been successfully improving the lives of the North Korean people in face of external threats since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War and declared it will continue to do so.
In a military parade that followed, tanks, armoured vehicles, rocket launchers and a variety of missiles mounted on trucks rolled by, while military planes flew in formation above the square, forming the symbol of the Workers' Party of Korea – a hammer, brush and sickle. Another group of planes formed the number 70 in the sky.
An expert at the Korea Institute for Defence Analysis, a security think-tank in Seoul, Jin Moo Kim, said North Korea revealed a new 300-millimeter rocket launcher. It also displayed drones and a KN-08 ballistic missile, with an estimated range of 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) that the country had previously shown off in 2012. Kim said the presence of Liu might have prevented the North from revealing its most provocative weapons.
Thousands of civilian marchers followed, holding colored cards to spell out Kim's name, and he responded by waving to the crowd and holding the hand of Liu, the visiting Chinese official.
The guest list was less impressive.
While no world leaders attended – North Korean ally China sent Liu, the Communist Party's No. 5 leader, not its head of state, or even vice-premier – the normally isolated and quiet North Korean capital has been flooded by tourists, international media and delegations ranging from ethnic Koreans living abroad to obscure Russian and Mongolian groups dedicated to studying North Korea's political ideas.
As the clock struck midnight Friday, Kim marked the anniversary by paying respect to both his late father and grandfather at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA.
Even though North Korean officials did not divulge details of the celebration plans in advance, open-source satellite imagery has been monitoring large-scale troop activities at the Mirim military air base in Pyongyang. Masses of Pyongyang citizens have for weeks been out in public plazas across the city practicing their roles for a torchlight parade in the evening.
For the finale, a stage was set up on a river running through central Pyongyang for a late-night concert featuring North Korea's most popular musical group, the all-female Moranbong Band. Tickets for foreigners hoping to attend the concert were going for 100 euros ($114) a pop.
The spectacle promised to be the most elaborate since Kim assumed power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in late 2011.
China's official Xinhua News Agency reported that Liu told Kim that China was willing to work with North Korea for a quick resumption of six-party nuclear talks. The talks, which aim to end the North's nuclear program and also involve the U.S., South Korea, Russia and Japan, stalled seven years ago.
Some foreign analysts believe the particularly strong emphasis this year on making the anniversary of the party's foundation such a lavish fete is a sign that Kim is trying to build up his own stature along with that of the party relative to the military.
Though Kim's leadership and both institutions are strong, the power balance among various government organs in North Korea is a delicate one and maintaining that balance is a key to keeping Kim's regime solid and unchallenged.
North Korea maintains its "military-first policy," which it says is necessary to counter threats from South Korea and the United States, but officials have recently stressed the role of the party in improving the standard of living for the people, who are increasingly aware of how far they lag behind their affluent cousins south of the Demilitarized Zone and in economic giant China.
In the run-up to this year's anniversary, large-scale construction and development projects have been launched and hailed with great fanfare in the state media.
The projects include new hydropower plants and high-rise apartments, but it is unclear how much of North Korea's limited financial resources have been put into improving the lot of the majority of its citizens who are not fortunate enough to live in the relatively developed and affluent capital.