Concerns that China is supplying Russia in its war on Ukraine dovetail with alarm at North Korean missile escalations
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was joined by senior Russian and Chinese delegates as he displayed his most powerful nuclear-capable missiles in a military parade marking a major war anniversary with a show of defiance against the United States and deepening ties with Moscow as tensions on the peninsula hit their highest point in years.
Edited footage from North Korean state TV on Friday showed streets and stands packed with tens of thousands of mobilised spectators, who roared in approval as waves of goose-stepping soldiers, tanks and huge, intercontinental ballistic missiles wheeled out on launcher trucks filled up the main road.
People were brought from around the country to the capital, Pyongyang, to fill the crowd, according to state media.
The parade began with warm-up events that featured ceremonial flights of newly developed surveillance and attack drones, which were first unveiled by state media this week as they reported on an arms exhibition attended by Kim and Shoigu.
The parade came after Kim met with Shoigu earlier this week to discuss military issues and the regional security environment, illustrating Pyongyang's support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.
North Korea has been aligning with Russia over the war in Ukraine, insisting that the “hegemonic policy” of the US-led West forced Moscow to take military action to protect its security interests.
The Biden administration has accused North Korea of providing arms to Russia to aid its fighting in Ukraine, although the North has denied the claim.
During the meeting, Shoigu conveyed to Kim a “warm and good letter” signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, KCNA said.
Shoigu also held talks with North Korean Defence Minister Kang Sun-nam that were aimed at “strengthening cooperation between our defence departments,” Russia’s Defence Ministry said in a statement.
KCNA reported that Kang, while hosting a reception for Shoigu, expressed support for the “just struggle of the Russian army” to defend the country’s sovereignty and security, in an apparent reference to Russia’s war on Ukraine. The agency also said Shoigu praised the North Korean People’s Army as “the strongest army in the world”.
Russian media reports did not include that comment.
North Korea is celebrating the 70th anniversary of an armistice that halted fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War. The festivities were apparently to be highlighted by a military parade Thursday evening in the capital, where Kim could showcase his most powerful, nuclear-capable missiles.
While the truce left the Korean Peninsula in a technical state of war, the North still sees it as a victory in the “Grand Fatherland Liberation War.”
In a rare case of diplomatic outreach since the start of the pandemic, North Korea invited delegations from Russia and China to attend the celebrations.
KCNA said Kim also took Shoigu to an arms exhibition that showcased some of North Korea’s newest weapons and briefed him on national plans to expand the country’s military capabilities. State media photos and video from the exhibition showed Kim and Shoigu walking near a row of large missiles mounted on launcher trucks.
Some experts say North Korea sees US confrontations with China and Russia over regional influence and the war in Ukraine as an opportunity to break out of diplomatic isolation and insert itself into a united front against Washington.
Both Moscow and Beijing have been derailing US efforts to strengthen UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea over its flurry of missile tests since 2022.
The sight of Kim sharing a stage with Shoigu and Li at a military parade is a major spectacle to show off to North Korean viewers, as well as a statement of defiance toward the US.