To mark the 70th anniversary of its founding, the communist regime staged a military parade on Sept. 9 focused on conventional arms, peace, and economic development. Unlike the prior years, the parade didn’t include ballistic missiles and wasn’t accompanied by a nuclear test, prompting a celebratory tweet from the U.S. president.
“This is a big and very positive statement from North Korea. Thank you To Chairman Kim,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Sept. 9. “We will both prove everyone wrong! There is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other! Much better than before I took office.”
Kim, joined by a special envoy from China and officials from other nations, reviewed columns of soldiers and tanks, followed by crowds waving flags and flowers. According to Chinese state television, Kim told the Chinese envoy that North Korea is now focusing on economic development, and wishes to learn from Beijing.
“North Korea upholds the consensus of the Singapore meeting between the leaders of North Korea and the United States and has taken steps for it, and hopes the United States takes corresponding steps, to jointly promote the political resolution process for the peninsula issue,” Kim said, according to the Chinese state television report.
Trump has promised North Korea a prosperous future if Kim carries out his commitment to completely, irreversibly, and verifiably abandon nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang has used military parades to show off the progress of its missile program. That trend was less apparent this year, a sign that Kim is serious about commitments he made at the summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Trump.
This year’s parade was dedicated instead to economic development and reunifying North and South Korea. The two countries are still technically at war and have been since 1950, since no peace treaty has been signed to replace the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War.
A giant float showing wind power plants, dams, a modern train, and solar panels rolled down the parade route under the slogan, “All our might to build economy!” alongside men marching in work gear.
North Korea’s titular head of state, Kim Yong Nam, told a crowd at the parade that Pyongyang has reached a status as a military power and will now shift focus to growing the economy.
Several floats featured the unification theme and a group of North Koreans waved unification flags.
“All Koreans should join forces to accomplish unification in our generation. Unification is the only way Koreans can survive,” said an editorial in North Korea’s party newspaper Rodong Sinmun.
Kim and Moon are scheduled to meet Sept. 18–20 in Pyongyang. The pair will discuss denuclearization, according to officials in Seoul.
Signs of trouble between North Korea and the United States arose last month when Trump canceled a scheduled Pyongyang trip by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a new envoy for North Korea, citing insufficient progress on denuclearization as the reason for the cancellation.
Despite the cancellation, Trump sent warm wishes to Kim and indicated that he looks forward to meeting soon. The president also said that China wasn’t enforcing economic sanctions on North Korea as diligently as before because of Washington’s tough trade stance on China.
South Korean officials say that Kim wants to denuclearize North Korea within Trump’s first term. Trump said on Sept. 7 that Kim had sent him a letter and suggested that the message will reveal more progress.
Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies who studies imagery for clues about North Korea’s emerging nuclear and missile programs, said the parade’s military component appeared to be scaled down this year.
“I am very curious to hear what is in the letter to Trump, because this parade could have been more provocative,” Hanham said. Satellite evidence has shown that North Korea is continuing missile-related activities, such as testing solid fuel motors, she added.
Kim was seen laughing and holding hands up with Chinese parliament chief Li Zhanshu as he oversaw the festivities at Pyongyang’s main Kim Il Sung Square on a clear autumn day. Kim waved to the crowd before leaving but didn’t make any public remarks.
North Korea has invited a large group of foreign journalists to cover a military parade and other events to mark the 70th anniversary of its founding.
That includes iconic mass games that Pyongyang is organizing for the first time in five years, a huge, nationalist pageant performed by as many as 100,000 people in one of the world’s largest stadiums.
Both the mass games and the military parade have been criticized by human-rights advocates and North Korean defectors for the pressure placed on performers and for painting a distorted picture of the country through stage-managed displays.
But thousands of jovial North Koreans clapped in unison and rallied support for their leader Kim.
A concert on Sept. 8 attended by Kim Yong Nam and foreign delegations featured little in the way of martial messaging or images, with only a few American bombers shown briefly in footage of the 1950–53 Korean War.
Reuters contributed to this report.