North Korea showcased previously unseen intercontinental ballistic missiles at an unprecedented pre-dawn military parade on Saturday that showcased the country’s long-range missiles for the first time in two years.
Analysts said the missile, which was shown on a transporter vehicle with 11 axles, would be one of the largest road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in the world if it becomes operational.
Also displayed were the Hwasong-15, which is the longest-range missile ever tested by North Korea, and what appeared to be a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
Ahead of the parade, which was held to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party, officials in South Korea and the United States said Kim Jong Un could use the event to unveil a new “strategic weapon” as promised earlier this year.
The parade featured North Korea’s ballistic missiles for the first time since Kim began meeting with international leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, in 2018.
“We will continue to build our national defence power and self-defensive war deterrence,” Kim said, but vowed that the country’s military power would not be used pre-emptively. He made no direct mention of the United States or the now-stalled denuclearization talks.
State news agency KCNA said the authority and security of North Korea hinged on “the huge nuclear strategic forces” shown in the parade.
Kim blamed international sanctions, typhoons, and the coronavirus for preventing him from delivering on promises of economic progress.
“I am ashamed that I have never been able to repay you properly for your enormous trust,” he said. “My efforts and devotion were not sufficient to bring our people out of difficult livelihoods.”
The video showed Kim make an appearance as a clock struck midnight. Dressed in a grey suit and tie, he waved to the crowd and accepted flowers from children while surrounded by military officials in Pyongyang’s recently renovated Kim Il Sung Square.
The parade was highly choreographed, with thousands of troops marching in formation, displays of new conventional military equipment including tanks, and fighter jets launching flares and fireworks.
Chad O’Carroll, CEO of the Korea Risk Group, which monitors North Korea, said more new military hardware had been displayed at this event than at nearly any other previous parade.
Sometimes appearing emotional, Kim thanked the military for working hard to respond to a series of damaging summer typhoons, and for preventing a coronavirus outbreak in the isolated country.
Kim said he hoped that North and South Korea would join hands again when the global coronavirus crisis is over.
He said he was grateful that not a single North Korean had tested positive for the disease, an assertion that South Korea and the United States have previously questioned.
While attendees at other celebratory events were shown wearing masks, no one at the parade appeared to be wearing them.
“It is an impressively large gathering during a global pandemic, suggesting North Korean authorities are concerned more with political history and national morale than with preventing a COVID-19 superspreader event,” said Leif-Eric Easley, who teaches at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
Earlier in the day, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said South Korea and U.S. intelligence authorities were closely monitoring developments.
South Korean officials said this week that Kim could use the event as a “low intensity” show of power ahead of the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3, as denuclearization talks with Washington have stalled.
Foreign diplomats in Pyongyang have often been invited to observe past celebrations. But the Russian Embassy said on social media that all diplomatic missions have been advised this year to “refrain as much as possible” from travelling in the city, approaching the event venue and taking photos and videos.
In a congratulatory message to Kim for the anniversary, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he intended to “defend, consolidate and develop” ties with North Korea, its state media said on Saturday.