70th Anniversary of the Republic
70 years on from the foundation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the eyes of the world once again fell onto Pyongyang and it’s actions. The military and civilian population staged a large parade on Kim Il Sung square, as they have done previously to mark significant occasions such as the founding of the Korean People’s Army in February, and historically to mark the birthdays of the highly revered leaders of the country. The parade today was notable due to the lack of missile technology on display (in stark contrast to the parade staged the day before the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang winter olympics earlier in 2018). The presentation of missile systems would likely have been viewed as a provocation in the ongoing year of increased diplomatic efforts from the government in Pyongyang and so, whilst it may not signal any significant concessions from the DPRK, it certainly shows a clear intention to maintain the lowered tensions that have been present since the new year.
Recently, diplomatic efforts have stalled between Pyongyang and Washington despite continuing communication between both Koreas. The announcement a few days ago of Moon Jae-in’s visit to Pyongyang signalled an attempt to break the deadlock that has arisen since the Trump-Kim summit in June. Trump’s decision to halt a planned trip to Korea by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo highlighted the lack of common ground present between the two sides due to reports of continued missile development and nuclear development, most notably at the Yongbyon nuclear development facility where, according to analyst group 38 North, a second cooling tower for their 5 MWe reactor may be under continued development.
38 North image of Yongbyon facility
The ongoing celebrations of the 70th anniversary saw the first Arirang mass gymnastic display at the May-day stadium in Pyongyang after not being on show for 4 years. Numerous delegations from countries all over the world were invited into the country for the celebrations, most notably a chinese delegation including Li Zhanshu (栗战书), Chairman of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress and a member of the politburo, seen with Kim Jong Un during the celebratory parade.
Kim Jong Un and a large delegation of officials also visited the Kumsusan memorial palace to pay respects to the President Kim Il Sung and General Secretary Kim Jong Il in an expected and grandiose ceremony. Korean Central TV showed Kim Jong Un paying respects to his late father and grandfather separate from the large delegation in their respective resting places inside the palace.
The 70th anniversary of the founding of the country comes in the middle of a difficult diplomatic campaign for Pyongyang, fraught with issues, major and minor. In recent weeks, Russia and China have begun to relax their sanctions against the DPRK and hopes are high in the White House and the Blue House that increased cooperation between the Koreas and the United States will yield a more peaceful coexistence in the near future. Tensions still run high though, with the US President blaming China for slow negotiations with Pyongyang and closer China-DPRK ties developing slowly – it is anyone’s guess what the next move will be.