North Korea displayed a new long-range and submarine-based missiles on Saturday, as it celebrates the 105th birth anniversary of its founding father, Kim Il Sung. This move comes after a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier group steamed towards the region.
The missiles appeared to be the main theme of the giant parade, with Kim's grandson, leader Kim Jong Un, taking time to greet the commander of the Strategic Forces, the branch of the military that oversees the missile arsenal.
Earlier this month, a US Navy attack on a Syrian airfield with Tomahawk missiles raised questions about US President Donald Trump's plans for reclusive North Korea. Pyongyang has conducted several missiles and nuclear tests in defiance of UN sanctions and regularly threatening to destroy the United States.
The parade had goose-stepping soldiers and marching bands filled the square. Single-engine propeller-powered planes flew in a 105 formation overhead. The event took place next to the Taedonggang River that flows through Pyongyang, in the hazy spring sunshine, followed by tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and other weapons.
However, there was no presence of a senior Chinese official at the event, unlike at some previous parades attended by Kim. China is North Korea's lone major ally but has spoken out against its missile and nuclear tests and has supported UN sanctions. On Friday, China again called for talks to defuse the crisis.
According to the weapons analysts, some of the missiles on display were new types of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
North Korea has said that it would launch a missile that can strike the mainland United States but officials and experts believe that the country is some time away from mastering all the necessary technology.
Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the U.S.-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California said North Korea showed two new kinds of ICBM enclosed in canister launchers mounted on the back of trucks. It suggested that Pyongyang was working towards a "new concept" of ICBM.
"However, North Korea has a habit of showing off new concepts in parades before they ever test or launch them," Hanham told Reuters. "It is still early days for these missile designs."
The Pukkuksong submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) were also showcased at the parade. It was the first time North Korea had shown the missiles, which have a range of more than 1,000 km (600 miles), at a military parade.
Joshua Pollack, editor of the Washington-based Nonproliferation Review said it is clear from the display of more than one of the missiles that North Korea is progressing with its plan to base a missile on a submarine, which are hard to detect.
"It suggests a commitment to this programme," Pollack said. "Multiple SLBMs seems like a declaration of intent to advance the programme," he added.
Choe Ryong Hae, a close aide to Kim Jong Un, addressed the packed square with a characteristically bellicose warning to the United States.
"If the United States wages reckless provocation against us, our revolutionary power will instantly counter with annihilating strike, and we will respond to full-out war with full-out war and to nuclear war with our style of nuclear strike warfare," he said.
KCNA, the state news agency reported that Trump administration's "serious military hysteria" had reached a "dangerous phase which can no longer be overlooked".
The United States has warned that a policy of "strategic patience" with North Korea is over. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence travels to South Korea on Sunday on a long-planned 10-day trip to Asia.
Apart from these, China has also increased economic pressure on North Korea by banning all imports of North Korean coal on Feb. 26 under U.N. sanctions, cutting off the North's most important export product.
Air China, China's national airline, was seen cancelling some flights to Pyongyang a few weeks ago due to poor demand. But on Friday, the company said that it has not suspended all flights there.
China's Global Times newspaper, which is published by the People's Daily, the Communist Party's official paper, said North Korea must have felt the shockwave from the 11-ton "mother of all bombs" dropped by U.S. forces on ISIS-linked fighters in Afghanistan on Thursday.
"It would be nice if the bomb could frighten Pyongyang, but its actual impact may just be the opposite," it said in an editorial.