North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his young daughter took center stage at a huge military parade, fueling speculation that she’s being primed as a future leader of the isolated country as her father showed off his latest, largest nuclear missiles.
Wednesday night’s spectacle in the capital, Pyongyang, featured the newest hardware in Kim’s growing nuclear arsenal, including what experts said was possibly a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile he could test in the coming months.
That missile was part of around a dozen ICBMs Kim’s troops rolled out at the event — an unprecedented number that underscored how he continues to expand his military capabilities despite limited resources, in the face of deepening tensions with his neighbours and the United States.
The parade was the fifth known public appearance by Kim’s daughter, Kim Ju Ae, his second-born who is believed to be around 10 years old. On Tuesday, Kim Jong Un brought his daughter to visit troops as he lauded the “irresistible might” of his nuclear-armed military.
State media have signaled a lofty role for Kim Ju Ae. She’s been called “respected” and “beloved,” and a photo released Wednesday showed her sitting in the seat of honor at a banquet, flanked by generals and her parents.
Other North Korean photos released on Thursday showed Kim, wearing a black coat and fedora, attending the parade with his wife and daughter. Kim smiled and raised his hand from a balcony as thousands of troops lined up in a brightly illuminated Kim Il Sung Square, which is named after his grandfather, the nation’s founder.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said all of the soldiers and spectators at the square raised “stormy cheers of ‘hurrah!’” and chanted the name of their ruler, a “great brilliant commander” who is “beefing up the military muscle with his outstanding military strategic ideas.”
The parade marked the 75th founding anniversary of North Korea’s army and came after weeks of preparations involving huge numbers of troops and civilians mobilized to glorify Kim’s rule and his relentless push to cement the North’s status as a nuclear power.
State media photos showed transport and launcher trucks carrying about 10 of the country’s Hwasong-17 ICBMs, which demonstrated a range that would allow them to reach deep into the US mainland during a flight test in November.
Those missiles were followed by another large missile encased in a canister and transported on a 9-axle vehicle.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the missile was a mockup or an actual rocket, but Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, said the missile was likely a version of a solid-fuel ICBM the North has been trying to develop for years. He added that the unprecedented number of Hwasong-17s paraded in Wednesday’s event suggests progress in efforts to produce those weapons in larger numbers.
The parade came after Kim met with his top military brass on Monday and ordered an expansion of combat exercises, as he continues to escalate an already provocative run in weapons demonstrations in the face of deepening tensions with his neighbors and Washington.
“This time, Kim Jong Un let North Korea’s expanding tactical and long-range missile forces speak for themselves,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
“The message Pyongyang wants to send internationally, demonstrating its capabilities to deter and coerce, will likely come in the form of solid-fuel missile tests and detonation of a miniaturised nuclear device,” he said, referring to US and South Korean assessments that the North could be preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017.
The official Korean Central News Agency confirmed that the parade featured a variety of nuclear-capable weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons targeting South Korea.