Kim Jong Un’s military parade showcases threat waiting after Olympics
Hong Kong: Kim Jong Un was expected to parade his latest military hardware through the North Korean capital Thursday, underscoring the danger that will remain after the Olympic displays of good will are over.
The procession of goose-stepping soldiers and mobile missile launchers comes one day before Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, joins South Korean leader Moon Jae-in and US vice-president Mike Pence to mark the start of the Winter Games in the South. Some 13,000 troops, as well as 110 artillery pieces, personnel carriers and other vehicles were observed preparing for the occasion, according to an analysis of satellite images by the website 38 North.
The parade—a regular feature of the Kim family’s martial rule—will be closely watched for signs the regime is getting closer to developing a nuclear arsenal that poses a credible threat across the Pacific. US President Donald Trump’s advisers continue to threaten a military strike to stop him from achieving that goal, even as Kim engages South Korea in dialogue and sends athletes to the Olympics in Pyeongychang.
The event marking the North Korean army’s founding highlights the sharper side of Kim’s two-pronged message since suggesting talks in a New Year’s address. In that speech, he both touted his desire for reunification with the south and warned that the nuclear button “is always on my desk.”
“He’s sending a high-level delegation to attend the Olympic Games games to show he can proffer an olive branch, while at same time showing people the willingness, determination and strength of the North, especially the nuclear capability,” said Zheng Wang, director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.
Tensions between the two sides could flare again soon after the Olympics when the US and South Korea are expected to restart their joint military drills, which the North wants cancelled.
While North Korea announced the parade during Olympics negotiations last month, preparations were observed as early as November. The north hasn’t said what time the procession will start. A similar event in April started at 10 am Seoul time, while a 2015 parade began at 3 pm, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry.
The US State Department has said that the US government would if “prefer” Kim’s display of military might didn’t take place. Such opposition was undercut, however, after the White House confirmed Tuesday that Trump had requested his own military “celebration,” which the Washington Post said was inspired by the Bastille Day event he watched last year in Paris.
Kim was expected to carefully control the parade’s message, with South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reporting Wednesday that North Korea had rescinded invitations to foreign journalists. No ballistic missiles or launchers were observed by 38 North, and arms-control analysts were uncertain whether Kim would display his most provocative equipment, such the Hwasong-15 rocket, which is believed to be capable of reaching Washington.
The missiles rolled out for such parades are believed to be mock-ups because the explosives they contain pose too great of a risk, said Markus Schiller, a weapons expert with ST Analytics in Munich. “You never show the real thing,” Schiller said.
Still, they can provide clues about what weapons Kim has under development. An intermediate-range Musudan missile paraded through Pyongyang in 2010 finally had its first test flight six years later. The appearance of hardware like night-vision goggles and new Chinese transport vehicles could also betray violations of United Nations sanctions.
North Korea might also seek to demonstrate its ability to retaliate should the US seek to hobble Kim’s nuclear weapons program with a limited—or “bloody-nose”—attack. Melissa Hanham, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, in Monterery, California, predicted that Kim would try to show he can produce multiple missiles and transport vehicles.
“North Korea knows that to increase the survivability of their missiles is to produce a lot of them, and to keep them continually moving on roads and submarines,” Hanham said. “I am curious to see what they are toting their long-range missiles around on. I expect to see more tracked, caterpillar-type vehicles.”
On his way to South Korea on Wednesday, Pence highlighted the danger posed by North Korea’s weapons program, inspecting anti-missile systems in Alaska and Japan. He will be joined at the opening ceremony by the father of Otto Warmbier, the American student who died last year after being jailed in North Korea.
“We will not allow North Korean propaganda to hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games,” Pence said. “We will not allow North Korea to hide behind the Olympic banner the reality that they enslave their people and threaten the wider region.” Bloomberg
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