N. Korea Stages Huge Parade, Holds Back on Advanced Missiles

Soldiers march in a parade for the 70th anniversary of North Korea's founding day in Pyongyang on Sunday, Sept. 9. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Soldiers march in a parade for the 70th anniversary of North Korea's founding day in Pyongyang on Sunday, Sept. 9. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

PYONGYANG, Korea, Democratic People's Republic Of -- North Korea rolled out some of its latest tanks and marched its goose-stepping soldiers through Kim Il Sung Square in a military parade on Sunday, marking its 70th anniversary. But the country held back its most advanced missiles and devoted nearly half of the event to civilian efforts to build the domestic economy.

The strong emphasis on the economy underscores leader Kim Jong Un's new strategy of putting economic development front and center.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans waving brightly colored plastic bouquets filled Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square as the parade began. Pyongyang residents have been training for months for the anniversary, and held up the bouquets to spell out words and slogans that could be seen from the VIP viewing area.

Kim attended the morning parade but did not address the assembled crowd, which included the head of the Chinese parliament and high-level delegations from countries that have friendly ties with the North.

At the end of the two-hour event, Kim strolled to the edge of the balcony with the Chinese special envoy, Li Zhanshu, who is also the third-ranking member in China's ruling Communist Party. The two held up their joined hands to symbolize the countries' traditionally close ties, though the absence of Chinese President Xi Jinping could indicate Beijing still has some reservations about Kim's initiatives.

Senior statesman Kim Yong Nam, head of North Korea's parliament, set the relatively softer tone for the event with an opening speech that emphasized the economic goals of the regime, not its nuclear might. He called on the military to be ready to work to help build the economy.

After a truncated parade featuring tanks and some of its biggest artillery, fewer than the usual number of missiles and lots of goose-stepping troops from all branches of the military, the focus switched to civilian groups ranging from nurses to students to construction workers, many with colorful floats beside them.

The past two big anniversaries of North Korea's founding, in 2008 and 2013, did not feature the Korean People's Army, only the civil defense units, officially called "Worker Peasant Red Guards."

Although North Korea stages military parades almost every year, and held one just before the Olympics began in South Korea last February, Sunday's parade came at a particularly sensitive time.

Kim's effort to ease tensions with President Donald Trump has stalled since their June summit in Singapore. Both sides are now insisting on a different starting point. Washington wants Kim to commit to denuclearization first, but Pyongyang wants its security guaranteed and a peace agreement formally ending the Korean War.

With tensions once again on the rise, a parade featuring the very missiles that so unnerved Trump last year, and led to a dangerous volley of insults from both leaders, could have been seen as a deliberate provocation. The North also refrained from immediately televising the event, though North Korean media were out in force to film it, deploying booms and -- for possibly the first time -- drones with cameras.

Kim will once again meet in Pyongyang with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss ways to break the impasse over his nuclear weapons.

The "new line" of putting economic development first has been Kim's top priority this year. He claims to have perfected his nuclear arsenal enough to deter U.S. aggression and now wants to devote his resources to raising the nation's standard of living.

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