WASHINGTON DC – North Korean authorities refrained this year from conducting a military parade at the annual “Day of The Sun” celebration, held today to commemorate the birth of founding leader Kim Il Sung.
A Kyodo News dispatch from Pyongyang today reported on the festivities, noting that unlike the previous year, “no military parades or other grandiose events were scheduled for the occasion”.
South Korean government officials earlier told Yonhap News that they had been expecting North Korea to conduct a large military parade, noting that soldiers and equipment had been seen amassing near Pyongyang.
Although there was no military parade, South Korea’s defense chief Kim Kwan-jin told lawmakers in Seoul today that it seemed North Korea was ready to launch its mid-range Musudan missiles. As of 7pm KST, North Korea had not yet conducted a missile launch, despite fears it might use the annual holiday as an occasion to fire.
In recent weeks North Korea’s armed forces have been on high-alert, conducting numerous exercises as tensions have risen on the peninsula. The International Crisis Group’s Daniel Pinkston today told NK NEWS that because of the scope and duration of these preparations, the Korean People’s Army may not have had capacity to simultaneously conduct large scale military parades at today’s celebrations.
On the subject of the “imminent” North Korean missile launch, Pinkston said that while he couldn’t predict when it would happen, it would make “no sense” to launch today.
“Too many people have to work when they test, especially high-level people who have other responsibilities and priorities on the holiday. The symbolism is important, they have ceremonial responsibilities, and they want a couple of days off. It’s a voluntary action they can schedule any time. It would be like the Pope scheduling his annual physical exam on Christmas Day,” Pinkston explained.
Earlier today Kim Jong Un initiated a national commemoration of his grandfather’s birth by visiting the Kumsusan Memorial Palace at midnight, laying a floral tribute before the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. In pictures released by Yonhap News, Kim is seen at the palace accompanied exclusively by military officials, while representatives of the Korean Workers Party seen at previous “Day of the Sun” palace visits not visible attending this year.
During the day, mass dancing events and picnics took place, while thousands of North Koreans paid tribute to a Kim Il Sung statue at Mansu Hill and elsewhere. State media outlet KCNA also reported that North Korean authorities also conducted a reception for foreign visitors at Pyongyang’s international class Koryo Hotel.
Yesterday KCNA reported that an unnamed Ethiopian man and North Korean women came first in the annual Pyongyang marathon, an event that underscored a visible difference between foreign perceptions of imminent war and the situation on the ground in North Korea. Instagram photos posted by Hannah Barraclough of Koryo Tours today also showed a festive and relaxed mood, absent of any impending preparations for war.
Despite increasing threats from North Korea, South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye made clear in recent days that her country would be open to dialogue with Kim Jong Un’s government. Pyongyang however responded by denouncing her proposal as a “cunning ploy”, though it has refrained from issuing any overtly aggressive threats in recent days.
Inter-Korean relations are at a low point following weeks of recriminations between Seoul and Pyongyang. Relations spiraled out of control following UN condemnation of North Korea’s third nuclear test in February.