North Korea puts its long-range missiles on parade in massive military show – Los Angeles Times
North Korea displayed its long-range missiles in a major military parade Saturday as a show of force against the United States and a display of absolute devotion to the country’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, underscoring the depth of the isolated nation’s nuclear ambitions and further raising the specter of a military conflict in northeast Asia.
At the parade — a celebration of the 105th birthday of Kim’s grandfather, the country’s founder-president, Kim Il Sung — Kim stood on a high rostrum in central Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square, wearing a black suit and white tie. He clapped, waved and saluted for more than two hours, as hundreds of thousands of North Koreans streamed by, howling, “Long live,” their faces contorted with emotion. Some openly shed tears.
North Korea did not test a missile or nuclear weapon to mark the anniversary, as many analysts had expected. But in a speech, Choe Ryong Hae, the vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea — widely believed to be the country’s second most-powerful man — warned that Pyongyang would not hesitate to deploy nuclear weapons against the U.S..
“Now the U.S. imperialists have struck a sovereign country,” he said, referencing President Trump’s recent airstrike on a Syrian airbase in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack. “Now, they are dispatching nuclear forces in the territory of the Korean peninsula. If the U.S. government preemptively strikes our country, we are ready to counter strongly.”
Trump diverted a naval strike group toward the peninsula last week, led by the USS Carl Vinson, a large aircraft supercarrier accompanied by destroyers and a guided-missile cruiser. It is not known to carry nuclear weapons.
The North Korea-U.S. showdown has placed northeast Asia in a state of heightened anxiety. Vice President Mike Pence arrives in Seoul this weekend to discuss North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and affirm support for U.S. allies. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed Friday that North Korea may be able to arm its missiles with sarin nerve agent, and the country’s national security council reportedly has discussed how to evacuate its nearly 60,000 citizens from South Korea in the event of a North Korean attack.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned that a military conflict between North Korea and the U.S. could break out “at any moment” and urged the two powers to avoid the “irreversible route” of war.
Friday’s parade featured a seemingly endless procession of tanks, missile-bearing trucks and soldiers who goose-stepped in such perfect unison that the ground shook.
North Korea presented several new pieces of military hardware at the parade, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, including a type of inter-continental ballistic missile, or ICBM. Analysts believe that the country is quickly approaching the capability of launching a nuclear-topped ICBM that could reach the continental U.S. and could perform its sixth nuclear test at a moments’ notice.
Other new weapons on display included Pukkuksong submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which North Korea tested last year and are harder to detect than land-launched ICBMs.
Yet the show of force left unanswered questions about the equipment’s reliability. The parade didn’t go off seamlessly; a North Korean live broadcast of the event showed one tank begin to billow smoke, then turn away before the column continued through Kim Il Sung Square.
Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea expert and international relations expert at Troy University in Seoul, said the North Korean government likely wanted to signal its move toward developing solid-fuel missiles, which can be deployed much more quickly than liquid-fuel missiles in the event of a military conflict.
“I think it’s becoming clearer that North Korea has what we call an ‘asymmetric escalation nuclear posture,’ ” Pinkston said. It’s suggesting that “if we’re getting overrun [in conventional combat], we reserve the right to use nuclear weapons first. That’s what North Korea is doing, and that’s really dangerous.”
Trump has pressured China to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program, threatening on Twitter that if it doesn’t, the U.S. could act on its own. China has taken steps to defuse the situation. On Friday, Wang, the foreign minister, pledged to try to renew talks with North Korea in a phone call with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, according to China’s foreign ministry.
China also has temporarily halted its coal imports from North Korea — a measure that Trump praised this week in a news conference. But it’s unclear how much farther China — the reclusive nation’s biggest benefactor — is willing to go. Beijing fears that a regime collapse in Pyongyang would send refugees across the two countries’ shared border and destroy the buffer between itself and South Korea, a staunch U.S. ally.
Trade between China and North Korea has actually increased in the first quarter of 2017, rising 37.4% from the same period last year, according to Chinese government figures. China buys garments and minerals such as iron ore from North Korea, while North Korea relies on the larger communist country for just about everything else — including most of its food and energy supplies.
John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, said that the recent round of tensions calls to mind episodes in 2010, when North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire, and in 2015, when Kim ordered frontline troops onto war footing.
“That was driven by South-North stuff, and the U.S. was there, kind of posturing,” he said. “This time, Trump is egging it on. But Kim Jong Un has showed that he’s ready to be this ‘go to the edge of the cliff and not blink’ kind of leader. He’s doing that again now.”
Experts say that the U.S. has no good options on the peninsula. A preemptive strike could provoke North Korea to attack Seoul, one of Asia’s most developed and cosmopolitan cities, potentially killing hundreds of thousands of people.
“There are just a lot of constraints on attacking North Korea,” said Robert Kelly, a professor of political science at Pusan National University in Seoul. “South Korea isn’t configured very well to absorb North Korean counterfire: 55% of its population lives within 75 miles of North Korea. It’s insane. It’s like facing a fencing partner without any armor over your chest.”
Saturday’s parade lasted for about two hours. Jets soared overhead, flying in formation to form the number “105,” the number of years since Kim Il Sung’s birth. The military band repeatedly played an anthem called “Defend Our Respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un at the Cost of our Lives.”
Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of citizens — the men dressed in suits, the women in traditional Korean dresses — marched by, clutching pink artificial flowers and national flags. They clustered around floats adorned with political slogans, perhaps one-story high. “Long live the socialist medical system,” said one, surrounded by doctors. Another, surrounded by athletes, implored them to defend Korea’s “dignity” by winning gold medals.
A third float, depicting a new residential development in Pyongyang, read: “We are the happiest in the world.” The marchers turned their heads to Kim, tears streaming down their faces.
After the parade, as municipal workers swept artificial flower petals from the square, Youn Dok-kin, a 47-year-old doctor, said that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program made him proud.
“Our country has always been threatened by the nuclear weapons of the U.S. imperialists,” he said. “Now, we have our own nuclear force, and our country can defend our national security, and our peace.”
Special correspondent Jessica Meyers in Beijing contributed to this report.
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