With North Korea gearing up to hold a military parade just a day before the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics on Feb. 9, speculations are rising over the intent of the North Korean regime amid mounting calls to suspend the military event from Seoul’s main opposition party.
Signs of a military parade have been spotted by commercial satellites at Mirim Parade Ground in Pyongyang -- troops marching in formation and vehicles being mobilized -- as the North vowed to hold “diverse events” to “significantly mark” its new Army’s Building Day, an event previously celebrated on April 25.
Although North Korea does not appear to have intentionally changed its military anniversary to coincide with the eve of the Olympics opening ceremony on Feb. 9, the move is designed to keep the international community focused on its military prowess and nuclear program, analysts said.
“It seems to be the North Korean way of showing off its presence when leaders of other countries come to PyeongChang,” said Go Myong-Hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “Because they can’t fire a missile during the Olympics.”
North Korea plans to send its high-profile delegates to the Olympics, while US Vice President Mike Pence has confirmed his attendance at the opening ceremony and talks are underway for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s attendance. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Abe expressed his wish to visit.
South Korea’s military said it would take time to figure out the intent of North Korea, adding it would continue to monitor activities in North Korea. Joint Chief of Staff spokesperson Col. Roh Jae-Chun said there were no precedents where North Korea held massive military parades on Feb. 8.
A senior official from South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it is still uncertain whether the North will hold a military parade, but it is confident that the North will not conduct military provocations during the Olympics period.
“North Korea’s participation in PyeongChang itself is a clear signal of easing tensions. I don’t think it would conduct provocations when its delegates are here,” the official told reporters under the condition of anonymity.
Yang Mu-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said it would be “preposterous” to assume the Olympics are the reason for holding a military parade, saying Pyeongyang has its own political calendar.
The professor noted that the decision to change the military anniversary was made by North Korea’s supreme decision-making body, the Political Bureau of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee
“However much reclusive North Korea has been, it is still a country run by its own rules and organizations,” the professor said. “(North Korea’s leader) Kim Jong-un himself has already described the Olympics as a joyous occasion and promised to send athletes and delegates.”
But the professor added it is still worrisome that the military parade puts a damper on the Olympics detente between the two Koreas, urging the government to demand the North keep the military event low-profile and tone down its reckless rhetoric against the US.
During the latest military parade on April 15 last year, North Korea showcased what analysts called “frankenmissiles,” which appeared to bear the characteristics of both the North Korean ICBM-class KN-08 and KN-14 missiles.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s main opposition party on Wednesday demanded the government urge North Korea to suspend its plan to hold a military parade, accusing the North of using the Olympics to avoid international isolation and economic sanctions.
Rep. Kim Sung-tae, the floor leader of the conservative Liberty Korea Party, said that since North Korea has demanded South Korea halt a joint military exercise with the US, South Korea can make the same demand to Pyongyang when it comes to the military parade.
“North Korea wants to make PyeongChang Olympics as a rehearsal for Pyongyang Olympics,” Kim told reporters. “If we don’t ask Kim Jong-un to suspend the military parade, the PyeongChang Olympics will end up being an arena for North Korea’s propaganda.”
By Yeo Jun-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org