An apparently emotional Kim Jong Un apologised for failing to improve North Koreans’ lives in an address to an unprecedented predawn military parade on Saturday that showcased the country’s long-range ballistic missiles for the first time in two years.
The country marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party with a raft of concerts and festivals, and the ceremony was seen around the region as an event where Kim could deliver messages to domestic and foreign audiences.
The parade featured North Korea’s ballistic missiles for the first time since Kim began meeting with international leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, in 2018.
“We will continue to build our national defence power and self-defensive war deterrence,” Kim said, but vowed that the country’s military power would not be used preemptively. He made no direct mention of the United States or the now-stalled denuclearisation talks.
Kim blamed international sanctions, typhoons, and the coronavirus for preventing him from delivering on promises of economic progress.
“I am ashamed that I have never been able to repay you properly for your enormous trust,” he said. “My efforts and devotion were not sufficient to bring our people out of difficult livelihoods.”
Sometimes appearing emotional, Kim thanked the military for working hard to respond to a series of damaging summer typhoons, and for preventing a coronavirus outbreak.
Kim said he was grateful that not a single North Korean had tested positive for the disease, an assertion that South Korea and the United States have previously questioned.
Officials in Seoul and Washington had said the North might unveil new strategic weapons. Initial footage of the parade showed conventional troops marching in formation and what appeared to be ballistic missiles on vehicles.
The video showed Kim make an appearance as a clock struck midnight. Dressed in a grey suit and tie, he waved to the crowd and accepted flowers from children while surrounded by military officials in Pyongyang’s recently renovated Kim Il Sung Square.
Kim said he hopes that North and South Korea will join hands again after the coronavirus crisis is over.
While attendees at other holiday events were shown wearing masks, no one at the parade appeared to be wearing any masks.
The event comes as the isolated country carries out strict measures against the coronavirus.
State media said the curbs have caused delays in some of Kim’s key economic and construction projects, already dogged by international sanctions.
“It is an impressively large gathering during a global pandemic, suggesting North Korean authorities are concerned more with political history and national morale than with preventing a COVID-19 superspreader event,” said Leif-Eric Easley, who teaches at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
Earlier in the day, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said South Korea and U.S. intelligence authorities were closely monitoring developments.
It was the first time that the parade has been held before dawn.
South Korean officials said this week that Kim could use the event as a “low intensity” show of power ahead of the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3, as denuclearisation talks with Washington have stalled.
For weeks commercial satellite imagery has shown thousands of North Korean soldiers practicing marching, and South Korean officials have said the North could use the parade to unveil a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), or a new submarine-launched ballistic missile.
Foreign diplomats in Pyongyang have often been invited to observe past celebrations. But the Russian Embassy said on social media that all diplomatic missions have been advised this year to “refrain as much as possible” from travelling in the city, approaching the event venue and taking photos and videos.
In a congratulatory message to Kim for the anniversary, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he intended to “defend, consolidate and develop” ties with North Korea, its state media said on Saturday.