North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent his support to all people fighting the coronavirus during his country’s 75th-anniversary celebrations, but also promised to build up Pyongyang’s defences to ward off “enemy forces”.
South Korean officials say they believe the gala event – featuring marching soldiers, fireworks, cheering masses and military vehicles laden with rockets – was staged late on Friday but only aired on television late on Saturday.
Wearing a grey suit and tie, Kim seemed emotional as he wished health to anyone in the world fighting the coronavirus. “I also send warm greetings with the same wish to the South Koreans,” he said.
The two countries remain in a technical state of war, with relations ebbing and flowing depending on the mood in Pyongyang.
Already a hermit nation, North Korea has walled itself off from the rest of the world since the coronavirus pandemic started and has acknowledged no instance of the virus’ transmission on its soil.
As is status quo with such North Korean events, there was a focus on the country’s military power. Kim said that plans to build up its self-defence and deterrence capacities were needed to counter “multiple dangerous attempts and actions, including nuclear threats, from enemy forces.”
However, he did not specifically mention the United States as one of these enemies.
North Korea is under heavy international sanctions because of its attempts to build up its nuclear capacities.
Kim didn’t take the stage until almost midnight.
His speech was interrupted by regular bouts of cheering and applause.
Some soldiers and civilians in the crowd could be seen crying.
No one could be seen wearing masks against the coronavirus.
During the parade that followed, troops showed off a variety of ballistic missiles, including a new intercontinental model, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
Experts say they think this model might be capable of flying greater distances than the existing Hwasong-15 model, which has a range of 12,800 kilometres.
But they also said that it does not look as if the rocket could carry multiple warheads.
Kim had vowed at the end of 2019 to unveil a new “strategic weapon,” during a speech in which he said North Korea would no longer be bound by international moratoriums against testing nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles.
Since a failed summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam in February 2019, talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme have stalled.
Although such events are the norm for key anniversaries in North Korea, the decision to stage it at night surprised some observers.
South Korean military officials had originally suspected that the parade had been staged before dawn on Saturday.
“The decision to hold this at night starts to make sense with (Kim Jong Un’s) sharp, emotional emphasis on overcoming adversity: basically, suggesting that the (Workers’ Part of Korea’s) light will cut through the darkness,” wrote North Korea expert Ankita Panda on Twitter.