North Korea’s 70th anniversary parade suggests little change in policy

11 10 2015

KJU-Oct-10-2015-parade( 10.10.2015) Parade demonstrates party commitment to nation’s defense, shows off some newer equipment.

North Korea stands ready to fight any war with the United States and its armed forces are now so strong that the country has become a global military power, leader Kim Jong Un said at major anniversary event on Saturday.

But despite the strident tone of his speech, North Korea refrained from carrying out anticipated missile tests to coincide with the event, held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK), or a satellite launch that many observers had expected earlier in the year.

“Our revolutionary forces are capable of dealing with any kind of war being waged by the U.S.,” Kim said during a 25-minute address prior to the military parade.

“Through the line of Songun (military-first) politics, our Korean People’s Army has become the strongest revolutionary force and our country has become an impenetrable fortress and a global military power,” he continued.


Following Kim’s speech a widely anticipated military parade kicked off, featuring formations of soldiers in various KPA uniforms – including historic versions – among the first to pass by the reviewing stand in Kim Il Sung Square.

Being a commemorative event, the approximately two hour parade featured old equipment as well as new, including the T-34 tank, a model which was used in the Korean War.

At various points during the parade, light aircraft flew above Kim Il Sung Square in formations, including CJ-6s depicting emblem of the WPK and An-2s depicting the number 70.

Among the artillery in the parade were self-propelled multiple rocket launchers (MRL) of various calibers including 107mm MRLs, 122mm MRLs, 240mm MRLs, and the previously unseen (though known to exist due to test firings) 300mm MRLs.

Other self-propelled field artillery included 122mm howitzers, 152mm gun-howitzers, and 170mm Koksan guns.

The parade featured several armored personnel carriers such as the BTR-60 and M-2010 and tanks such as the Type-59, Chonma-ho, and Pokpung-ho. Notably, there was a lack of any towed artillery in the parade, perhaps intentionally so in order to present an image of a more mobile and rapidly deployable force.

The only unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, a.k.a “drone”) featured in the parade was a previously seen, indigenously produced UAV believed to be based on the American MQM-107. The designation of this UAV, which is mounted on ZIL-130 trucks, is unknown.

Following the UAVs were Kumsong-1 (a.k.a. KN-01) surface-to-ship missiles.

Three different surface-to-air missiles (SAM) were featured in the parade including the S-125 (NATO reporting name SA-3) and S-200 (NATO reporting name SA-5) and the KN-06, a North Korean version of the Russian S-300.

The parade also featured ballistic missiles such as the Scud (Hwasong-5/6), the Rodong-A, the Rodong-B (BM-25 Musudan), and what appears to be a new version of the KN-08 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM).

Following the missiles, the parade ended with a military band marching in formation to spell out the word “victory” (seungri) and Su-25 ground attack aircraft flying overhead with colored smoke trails.


The attendance of China’s No. 5 leader Liu Yunshan at the parade further suggested a thawing of relations between Beijing and Pyongyang, him being the most senior Chinese visitor to Pyongyang since Kim came to power.

Video of the parade on Saturday showed Kim and Liu standing shoulder to shoulder on a viewing platform overlooking Kim Il Sung square, frequently talking and laughing among themselves.

Chinese state media said Liu brought Kim a message on Friday from President Xi Jinping, extending congratulations and best wishes from Beijing to Pyongyang to commemorate the 70th anniversary.

Notably, Kim Jong Un did not mention North Korea’s signature “Byungjin” policy of simultaneously pursuing economic and nuclear weapons development, something some analysts suggested Saturday could be in respect of Liu’s presence. China is opposed to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

The prime-position presence of Liu at the event stood in stark contrast to the distant positioning of a North Korean delegation at recent Victory Day anniversary celebrations in Beijing.

At that September 3 event, which Kim Jong Un did not attend, DPRK envoy Choe Ryong Hae stood watching the parade over 40 people away from President Xi. South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye stood adjacent to Xi, reflecting the increasingly close ties between the two countries.

Dr. Leonid Petrov, a North Korea researcher at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, told NK News the parade emphasized the regime’s rule and military policy, rather than any hopes of changing inter-Korean relations which were evident in another recent event.


This parade appears to have emphasized not only the current state of the DPRK’s military technical capability, showcasing much of its newer equipment, but also the role of the party in fighting for and defending the country – both historically and presently – and the party’s leadership in military affairs.

“KJU’s speech and today’s military parade were to convince people inside and outside of the DPRK that after the 70 years of dictatorship and militarism nothing is going to change,” Petrov told NK News.

“The country will remain an ‘impenetrable fortress’ and its perpetual conflict with ‘American imperialists’ will continue,” said Petrov, paraphrasing Kim. “It would have been much more memorable if KJU had repeated what he had apparently told the visiting Chinese envoy, Liu Yunshan: namely, that he wants to improve relations with South Korea.”


KWP Meeting in September 2010: Perpetuation of the Living Leader System or Transformation to the Enshrined Leader System?

2 09 2010

By Ruediger Frank (Policy Forum 10-037: July 8th, 2010)

The North Korean official news agency KCNA has announced a Politburo decision dated June 23, 2010 that in “early September” (9 wŏl sangsune) of this year, it will hold a conference of Party delegates (tang taep’yojahoe). At least in name, this is not a Party Congress (tang taehoe); the 6th and so far last such congress was held in 1980 (5th Party Congress: 1970, 4th Party Congress: 1961).

There have so far been only two such conferences of Party delegates – in 1958, and in 1966. The task of these conferences, which are supposed to take place every five years according to the Party statutes, is to coordinate the work of the Party between congresses. As 44 years have passed since the last conference of delegates and 30 years since the last Party congress, it is difficult to rely on the statutes to understand what the exact meaning the meeting in September will be. But obviously, it is an extraordinary event.

According to KCNA, the task of the delegates will be to elect the highest leading organ (ch’oego chidokigwan) of the Korean Worker’s Party, the ruling Communist Party of North Korea. Note that the announcement was not talking of the highest leading organ of the country; and that it did not mention a single person, but rather a leadership organ. As historical experience tells us, the latter can under certain circumstances be a euphemism for a single person, as was the case up to 1980 when Kim Jong-il was called the “Party Center” (tang chung’ang).

However, for the moment it makes much more sense to take the announcement at face value. The Party has not convened any Party Congress since 1980 and even elected Kim Jong-il to the post of Secretary General only by a somewhat unusual process in 1997. Rather than doing so during a Party plenum (the last one was held in 1993), he was endorsed by the Central Committee and the Central Military Committee of the Party. The Korean Worker’s Party which has operated very irregularly at least regarding formal procedures is now, finally, going to improve its functionality as the major power group in North Korean society.

The first reaction by observers has been to regard the delegate’s meeting in September as the moment when Kim Jong-il’s son Kim Jong-un (Kim Jong-ŭn) will be officially introduced as successor. Yet, while this is not entirely impossible, it does not necessarily seem to be the most likely outcome. Formally, if we look at the pattern of Kim Jong-il’s elevation to heir, the actual announcement of a successor (if there is one) would be the task of the 7th Party congress.

Another argument speaking against a formal announcement at this moment is the absence of any achievement of Kim Jong-un that can be convincingly presented to the people and to the elite in order to accept him as the new leader. Although North Korea is routinely described as a Communist dynasty by outsiders, being a relative of the leader does not seem to be a sufficient condition for succession. Kim Jong-il had to prove himself for many years before his father, the elite and the people. Only then was it considered safe to present him as the next leader. If Kim Jong-un is indeed involved in the meeting in September, he will most likely at first become the member of a team and as such become more visible. He can start building a reputation and an image, before in a next step he would possibly rise to the top.

If we look at North Korea from a more systemic and long-term point of view, another outcome of the Party meeting, or at least another interpretation thereof, emerges. […] Regime survival is, as most analysts agree, the major objective of the leadership in Pyongyang. To avoid an implosion and to ensure regime survival, the transformation of a totalitarian into an authoritarian regime seems inevitable. An important step in this ongoing process would be the replacement of the “living Great Leader system” by an “enshrined Great Leader system” which is ruled by a collective of people who are essentially top administrators from the various power groups of society.

This collective – the National Defense Commission, or a resuscitated Politburo, or a newly created Council for National Unification – will have to have a leader. However, he will be more like a primus inter pares, not a divine but an “ordinary” leader like the Pope in the Catholic Church. Inspiration, vision and legitimacy will be derived from the eternal leader Kim Il-sung and his only true prophet Kim Jong-il. Both have left so many often contradictory and ambiguous statements that in fact any policy would be possible based on their legacy. It is hence relatively open in which direction the country will move after this power transition is concluded.

In conclusion, I would argue that the wording of the announcement, formal issues, the short-term problem of creating legitimacy for a yet widely unknown grandson of Kim Il-sung, and a more systematic long-term analytical perspective suggest that the Party meeting in September will likely not announce a successor for Kim Jong-il, but rather create or upgrade a collective. This might or might not include Kim Jong-un; but it is hard to imagine that such a collective will not be headed by Kim Jong-il. This will be an important and long overdue step towards the perpetuation of political leadership in North Korea, and on the way toward transforming a static totalitarian system into a more flexible authoritarian one.

Read the full text of this article here…

Ruediger Frank, Professor of East Asian Economy and Society art the University of Vienna. List of publications by Ruediger Frank.