What we can expect to see at North Korea's 'biggest military parade'
Pyongyang's military parade in 2018
North Korea is preparing for what is likely to be the largest military parade in its history. Thousands of soldiers have practiced for months to ensure that every step is precisely performed and that every fervent cry of worship is heard by Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.
These events are often ostentatious formal demonstrations of military power to show a devoted people how to pay homage to their leader in close-range goose-step exercises. Errors will not be tolerated.
These parades can also be part of a provocation. A chance to show off new missiles and weapons despite severe economic sanctions.
Since Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un held their first summit in 2018, the state has not shown ballistic missiles in its parades.
Talks between the two sides broke off without an agreement in Hanoi last February, and North Korea has continued to test a number of new short-range ballistic missiles.
This event on October 10, marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Labor Party, takes place just weeks before the US presidential election. Will North Korea make a point with this and prove that it still has guns that can hit the United States?
New hardware on parade
It is sure to get big, according to the editor-in-chief of Daily NK, a Seoul-based website with paid sources in the north.
Lee Sang Yong told me that back in March, Pyongyang ordered its military to mobilize 32,000 soldiers. It has grown so big that the place where soldiers practice had to be expanded.
Korean People's Army soldiers watch a mass rally in 2018
"Pyongyang Mirim Airport now has two new streets and ten new buildings, so it is likely that Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) or Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) will be on display at the parade this time," he said.
"There will also be 600 students and researchers from Kim Il-sung University. This is not an insignificant number. At this university they develop new talents in missile development. By taking them to parade or exhibiting, North Korea may seek pride and respect to develop the talents of missile development. "
Jeongmin Kim, an analyst at NK News, said North Korea doesn't always use these events to prove a point to the outside world.
"We have to remember that often - especially for a hereditary dictatorship - they have to constantly prove their legitimacy in order to rule their domestic audiences.
"October 10th will have exactly that as the goal: to show people with dazzling parades with uplifting propaganda slogans that they are doing well despite everything that has happened this year."
"Of course, precedents point to the possibility that Kim Jong-un or other high-ranking officials will deliver a speech that may contain a message to the outside world, such as that they will and will no longer wait for sanction relief." Focus on 'independence'. "
Performing more than ever
While some will look for new missiles, concerns about the well-being of the 25 million North Koreans grow.
2020 has been a bad year for most countries, but it can be devastating for North Korea.
"I hear that the number of orphans and homeless street children in the north is rising sharply this year," said Lee Sang Yong.
"Even if we cannot imagine it here in South Korea - there are people in the north who die and starve to death."
The state closed its borders to the outside world in January to prevent the spread of Covid 19 from neighboring China.
Authorities reportedly issued "shoot-to-kill" orders along the border and created a buffer zone to prevent people from entering the country.
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Diplomatic sources earlier this year revealed that supplies of PPE and other critical medical supplies, including vaccines, had been building up on the border with China that could not get through.
North Korea claims it has not had any cases of Covid-19, but Kim Jong-un continues to hold high-level meetings to ensure tight restrictions remain in place.
The North Korean people are now more cut off from the outside world than ever. Even movement between the provinces was limited.
"Land, sea, and air. It's a complete shutdown of people and material," said Mr. Lee.
"If you are not a military personnel or a senior officer, no one is moving in North Korea. The quarantine measures against Covid-19 are so strict.
"The North Korean economy has stalled. Smugglers and petty traders on the border have wondered why the regime is risking the fate of the economy if there is no Covid-19 in the country."
Watch a previous parade:
Six months of training for 10 minutes on the parade
Trade with its key ally, China, fell nearly 70% in the first eight months of this year compared to last year.
The impoverished state has also been hit by extreme weather conditions in recent months, and Korean state television spends its afternoons making “heroic” efforts to overcome the damage caused by multiple typhoons.
Kim Jong-un has now ordered nationwide action to stimulate the battered economy, and calls it the "80-day battle".
In short, this means more work for the North Korean people, extra hours in the fields or in factories, and extra work in their towns and villages. The harder they fight, the more loyal they will appear to local leaders. The message that is broadcast on state television is "self-reliance".
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In the south, farms across the country harvest rice. But it's hard to know if this is happening in the north.
It's difficult to get a clear picture of how badly the state's crops have been hit, but with 11 million people in the country considered food unsafe, even a small number of rain-ravaged fields can starve thousands.
A story of two Koreas
My team traveled to the demilitarized zone near Geosong on the east coast.
We drive past white sandy beaches that are flanked by high barbed wire. The bright blue sky gives us a crystal clear view of the mountains in the north. A few checkpoints are visible on the peaks
Large sandy beach facing north from Geosong Observatory
From here, curious South Koreans love to look to the north. This is as close as possible.
Pyongyang cut communications with Seoul dramatically in June and blew up the Korean liaison office
Earlier this month, an incident in disputed waters west of the peninsula led to a South Korean man who is alleged to have tried to overrun, shoot and kill. His body was burned.
It shocked South Koreans.
Kim apologizes for killing a South Korean official
And yet the north still has friends here.
Some still have hopes of ending the 70 Years War, even after Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un failed to reach an agreement on denuclearization.
Just three years ago, North and South Koreans competed in the Winter Olympics in Gangwon Province together, and the local governor believes it is time to revisit this type of exchange as a path to peace.
North and South marched together at the Winter Olympics
"Efforts to achieve a big cause did not result in an agreement. It is time for us to go back to develop apolitical initiatives and make small deals in sports and cultural exchanges," said Choi Moon Soon.
"It is very unfortunate that we are faced with the situation that even small exchanges between North and South Korea are interrupted by following the big political issue and uncovering differences in the process."
Mr. Choi wants to create a United Nations peace zone on the border.
International sanctions mean this is an unlikely dream for now. Instead, Mr. Choi admitted that North Korea is closely monitoring the US presidential election to determine its next move.
"I'm not sure I will see North and South Korea united in my lifetime, but I have two daughters and I would like it if they didn't inherit this volatile situation. We live with ongoing threats and conflict potential. We shouldn't Don't pass this volatility on to our next generation. "
That can be out of his hands and instead fall on whoever wins the White House.
Pyongyang tries to read the situation inside and outside his country. It is not yet clear which path it will take.
Will his current perilous position eventually encourage Kim Jong-un to return to the negotiating table? Or will he keep looking inward and keep the borders closed?
The North Korean leader was unusually calm this year. This parade is an opportunity to show your hand and agenda and bring the fate of your country back to the public.
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