Signs of N. Korea holding military parade, says South

Event comes amid party congress where Kim blasts US, details plans for nuclear upgrade

A photo supplied last week showing attendees at the eighth congress of the North Korean Workers' Party in Pyongyang. The congress signals a contentious approach towards the new United States administration after three largely fruitless meetings with
A photo supplied last week showing attendees at the eighth congress of the North Korean Workers' Party in Pyongyang. The congress signals a contentious approach towards the new United States administration after three largely fruitless meetings with President Donald Trump.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON/SEOUL • North Korea appeared to stage a military parade as part of a grand party congress that laid out the scale of the challenge United States President-elect Joe Biden faces to rein in regime leader Kim Jong Un's nuclear programme.

There were signs that North Korea held a parade late on Sunday evening, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday, in what would be the second such event since last October.

US and South Korean intelligence officials were tracking the movements in Pyongyang, the joint chiefs said, which could provide more insight into recent military advances by the regime.

The event came amid a Workers' Party congress where Mr Kim renewed his sabre-rattling towards the US and outlined plans for a broad upgrade of his nuclear forces to improve his capacity to strike across the Pacific.

In a chilling warning to the incoming Biden administration, North Korea declared the US its "biggest main enemy" and predicted that Washington's "hostile policy" towards Pyongyang would remain no matter who comes to power.

The congress - only the third such event in the past four decades - signalled a contentious approach towards the new US administration after three largely fruitless meetings with President Donald Trump.

North Korea has a history of testing new US presidents with provocations as a way to pressure them to return to the negotiating table.

The event also ushered in political changes that would likely be analysed for months, with the congress' main report running some 13,500 words in English. Mr Kim received the new title of "general secretary" of the ruling party - a moniker previously reserved for his late father.

Meanwhile, his prominent sister Kim Yo Jong was left off a list of alternate members of the Politburo without explanation, sparking speculation that she had suddenly fallen out of favour.

North Korea's weapons plans include making smaller and lighter nuclear weapons, proceeding with the development of large warheads and improving the ability to strike targets within 15,000km - or all of the continental US.

Mr Kim is seeking to develop solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and nuclear-powered submarines while strengthening intelligence-gathering capabilities with satellites, according to state news agency KCNA.

"It lights a fire under the Biden administration," said Mr Ankit Panda, a Stanton senior fellow in the nuclear policy programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"Kim is making clear that if Biden decides not to prioritise North Korea policy, Pyongyang will resume testing and qualitatively advancing its nuclear capabilities in ways that would be seriously detrimental for Washington and Seoul," he said.

It was unclear if and when North Korea would release footage of the military activities in Pyongyang. The regime waited almost a day before broadcasting images of its previous parade in October, an event that included the debut of what experts believe to be the world's largest road-mobile ICBM.

North Korea launched a long-range rocket and detonated a nuclear device after US president Barack Obama took power in 2009.

Mr Trump was welcomed with a series of ballistic missile tests that culminated with the November 2017 launch of an ICBM that experts said could deliver a nuclear warhead to the entire US.

Mr Kim issued a dire warning in opening remarks to the congress of 5,000 delegates, saying the previous five-year plan fell far short of goals and the party would explore a "new path" for making a "big leap forward".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2021, with the headline 'Signs of N. Korea holding military parade, says South'. Print Edition | Subscribe