With the world’s gaze on Asia for the start of the Winter Olympics, North Korea held an unscheduled military parade in Pyongyang Thursday to highlight the country’s soldiery as a “world-class force.”
The event, held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army, was overseen by leader Kim Jong Un.
The U.S. criticized Pyongyang Friday for the timing of the parade — which is usually held in April — although reports suggest the annual showcase was toned-down from previous years.
It lasted for just 90 minutes, was not broadcast live on television and didn’t feature any of North Korea’s most advanced nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile that Kim claims can hit any U.S. city.
“Our army, having grown into a world-class force, leads the battle of the KPA toward the final socialist victory over the Korean Peninsula,” Kim said in a speech to the troops. ”As long as imperialists remain on this planet and the threat of American aggression against Korea continues, our mission of the KPA is to protect the homeland will never change.”
Amid talk of Washington planning its own nationalistic cavalcade, Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Seoul with a message for South Korea: Don’t fall for the North’s propaganda.
Taking place 80 kilometers from the border that divides the Peninsula, the Games have been seen as a positive step towards easing tensions between Pyongyang and Seoul.
The two countries marched under one flag during the opening ceremony Friday and have entered a combined women’s ice hockey team in the competition.
But Washington insists the apparent thawing as an act.
Pence will meet with South Korean president Moon Jae In to stress his concern that Pyongyang’s posturing is a “charade” to distract from its goal of developing a sophisticated nuclear arsenal.
Moon will also meet with North Korea’s 22-strong delegation Saturday, including Kim’s influential sister Kim Yo Jong.
There was a suggestion that Pence could meet with North Korean officials attending the Games, but he made it clear that if he does meet anyone from the north, he won’t be circumspect:
“We haven’t requested a meeting with North Korea, but if I have any contact with them — in any context — over the next two days, my message will be the same as it was here today: North Korea needs to once and for all abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions,” Pence said, before departing Yokota Air Base in Japan.
The vice president also announced that the U.S. would unveil in coming days “the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever.”
Cover image: An image taken from video footage provided by Paektu Cultural Exchange shows military vehicles through streets in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. (AP Photo)