North Korea's Kim Jong Un presides over big military parade
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, attends a military parade to mark the 75th founding anniversary of the Korean People's Army on Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
Kim Tong-hyung, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, February 8, 2023 9:18PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 8, 2023 10:59PM EST
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un brought his young daughter to a huge military parade showing off the latest hardware of his fast-growing nuclear arsenal, including intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to reach the United States, state media said Thursday.
North Korean photos of Wednesday night's parade in the capital, Pyongyang, showed Kim, wearing a black coat and fedora, attending the event with his wife and daughter, in the young girl's latest recent public appearance. Kim was smiling and raising his hand from a balcony as thousands of troops lined up in a brightly illuminated Kim Il Sung Square, named after his grandfather and the nation's founder.
The parade marked the 75th founding anniversary of North Korea's army and came after weeks of preparations involving huge numbers of troops and civilians mobilized to glorify Kim's rule and his relentless push to cement the North's status as a nuclear power.
State media reports didn't immediately mention whether Kim delivered a speech during the event. The parade came after Kim met with his top military brass on Monday and ordered an expansion of combat exercises, as he continues to escalate an already provocative run in weapons demonstrations in face of deepening tensions with his neighbors and Washington.
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said the parade featured a variety of nuclear-capable weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons targeting South Korea; and ICBMs, which the agency described as crucial weapons supporting the North's ongoing “power-to-power, all-out confrontation” against its enemies.
Commercial satellite images of the parade released by Maxar Technologies Inc. showed huge, missile-carrying trucks passing the square's main road as thousands of spectators watched.
Lee Sung-jun, spokesperson of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a briefing that the South Korean and U.S. militaries were closely analyzing the North Korean photos and reports to evaluate the weaponry.
North Korea is coming off a record-breaking year in weapons testing, and the dozens of missiles it fired in 2022 included potentially nuclear-capable systems designed to strike targets in South Korea and the U.S. mainland.
The intensified testing activity was punctuated by fiery statements and a new law threatening preemptive nuclear attacks against its neighbors and the United States in a broad range of scenarios.
Kim doubled down on his nuclear push entering 2023.
During a major political conference in December, Kim called for an “exponential increase” of the country's nuclear warheads, mass production of battlefield tactical nukes targeting “enemy” South Korea and the development of more powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the continental United States.
North Korean state TV may broadcast the parade on tape delay later Thursday. Analysts will then pour over the footage for clues about the country's progress in nuclear weapons and missile technologies.
Some experts anticipated that North Korea would use the parade to showcase a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile, which would potentially be a crucial addition to the country's long-range arsenal targeting the U.S. mainland.
In December, Kim supervised a test of a “high-thrust solid-fuel motor” for a new strategic weapon he said would be developed in the “shortest span of time,” which experts said likely referred to a solid-fuel ICBM.
The use of solid fuel could reduce the amount of launch preparation time, and allow missiles to be more mobile on the ground. All of the ICBMs the North has flight-tested since 2017 used liquid propellants.
Solid-fuel ICBMs highlighted an extensive wish list Kim announced under a five-year arms development plan in 2021, which also included tactical nuclear weapons, hypersonic missiles, nuclear-powered submarines and spy satellites.
The parade was the fifth known public appearance by Kim's daughter, Kim Ju Ae, his second-born child who is believed to be around 10 years old. Kim Jong Un on Tuesday brought his daughter to visit troops to mark the anniversary as he lauded the “irresistible might” of his nuclear-armed military.
State media's lofty descriptions of Kim Ju Ae, who has been called “respected” and “beloved,” suggest that she may be being primed as her father's successor.
Analysts say Kim's decision to bring his daughter to public events tied to his military is to send a statement to the world he has no intention to voluntarily surrender his nuclear weapons, which he apparently sees as the strongest guarantee of his survival and the extension of his family's dynastic rule.
An official from South Korea's Unification Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity during a background briefing, said it's too early to determine whether Kim Ju Ae is being groomed as the fourth heredity ruler of North Korea but added that “all possibilities are open.” The official said her repeated appearance in major events and her prominent exposure in state media is aimed at urging “ultimate loyalty” to the Kim family.