North Korea will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Workers’ Party on Saturday, the only party in the Stalinist-ruled country. The regime staged the largest military parade in the country’s history, despite the coronavirus and dying economy.
According to Daily NK, which has resources in North Korea, at least 32,000 soldiers trained for months to make sure everyone was right in line. Mistakes are not tolerated and severely penalized.
South Korean observers believe that the North Korean regime wanted to radiate unity in the party with its enormous parade and show new weapon systems. During the parade the enormous rockets on trailers were again fully present as usual, but it is still unclear whether these are new weapon systems.
Whether the weapon systems shown actually function is still the question. Korea expert Remco Breuker of Leiden University does not rule out that these are show pieces made of “papier-mâché”. If not, he expects the North Koreans to conduct missile tests in the near future to show that. “Kim Jong-un has been hinting at a new weapons system that North Korea is said to possess for a year.”
The parade was also shown on South Korean television (Photo: ANP)
Not clear how hard coronavirus is hitting North Korea
According to the regime, North Korea, which has more than 25 million inhabitants, is only slightly affected by the corona virus. Observers do not believe this, but better information is difficult to obtain.
“Everything indicates that things are going badly, but I have not seen any hard evidence for that,” says Breuker. In any case, the government is terrified of the virus. The borders are very closely guarded, both those with China and South Korea and the sea borders. Trade with China has largely come to a standstill – including informal trade. I don’t know how reliable the figures are, but there would be up to 90 percent less traffic at the Chinese border, so less food would come in. Someone recently said to me that the coronavirus did what the sanctions did not can reach: make North Korea feel that it has been cut off. “
What is beyond dispute is that the country is in a bad position to deal with a pandemic. “They have doctors, nurses, and hospitals, but no medical supplies, such as drugs, ventilators, IVs, or devices to keep the environment sterile.”
The situation in the country is further complicated by recent natural disasters. Breuker: “There has been a lot of rainfall, and because many mountains and hills have been cleared, this leads to mudslides. Moreover, North Korea has recently been hit by three typhoons.”
International tensions destroy North Korean economy
North Korea is also struggling with a very weak economy. Recovery is difficult, because the country’s isolated international position offers little prospect of improvement.
Earlier this year, the North Koreans blew up an office on the border, where consultations with the South Koreans previously took place. Pyongyang was outraged by hot air balloons with critical messages directed against the regime, which were launched by private individuals on the south side of the border.
After the party’s anniversary, North Korea may try to break the deadlock in relations with Seoul and Washington, analysts say. “That’s a very safe bet, because they always do,” says Breuker. According to him, the question is whether the North Koreans take that step because they are in such bad shape or because it fits in that well-known pattern of attraction and repulsion.