North Korea showcases friends and arms

North Korea marked the 70th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement with a late-night military parade on Thursday (27 July).

It was an intriguing evening for a couple of reasons. First, the parade’s audience included foreign dignitaries for the first time since 2018:

  • 🇨🇳 China sent Li Hongzhong from the Communist Party’s 24-member Politburo, as Beijing’s first visitor to Pyongyang since COVID, and
  • 🇷🇺 Russia sent Defence Minister Shoigu, the first ever such visit from present-day Russia (Soviet defence chiefs visited previously).

Second, the parade and surrounding festivities featured:

But it’s really the combo of the audience and content that turned heads: China and Russia are both permanent members of the UN Security Council, which has banned North Korean nuclear-capable ballistic missiles since 2006.

And yet here were senior reps from Beijing and Moscow, in downtown Pyongyang, applauding as nuclear-capable ballistic missiles rolled on by.

Intrigue’s take: This is less about North Korea coming out of isolation, and more about Russia going further in. Moscow needs more ammo for its invasion of Ukraine, and Pyongyang seems one of the few willing sellers.

As for China, Li is less senior than Beijing’s last parade rep in 2018, and these reps have applauded North Korean ICBMs before. So sending Li was probably just a low-cost way for Beijing to signal support for its only formal ally, while signalling displeasure regarding US actions in the region.

And North Korea? It gets tacit Chinese and Russian endorsement of its weapons program, plus a dash of solidarity in its struggle with the West, both of which Kim Jong Un will leverage to boost his legitimacy at home.

Also worth noting:

  • In North Korea, the Korean War (triggered by a Northern attack on the South) is known as the Fatherland Liberation War. In South Korea, it’s often the 625 War, reflecting the start date of 25 June. In China, it’s known as the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea.
  • Russia and China held joint ‘Northern/Interaction-2023’ military drills in waters off the Korean Peninsula earlier this month. The US and South Korea held their largest ever live-fire exercises in May.
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