PYONGYANG (Reuters) - North Korea celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Korean War truce on Saturday with a massive military parade trumpeting the revolutionary genius of three generations of leaders that gave it “Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War”.
Leader Kim Jong-un was joined by Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao on the podium overlooking Pyongyang’s main Kim Il Sung square to inspect a massive throng of soldiers in goosestep and a display of weapons including its mid-range missiles.
Kim clad in black exchanged words with Li through an interpreter but did not make public remarks at the parade, which appeared to be one of the largest ever put on by the North.
Choe Ryong-hae, Kim’s main military aide and the chief political operative of the North’s 1.2-million-strong army, said the reclusive state sees peace as a top national priority and its military was aimed at safeguarding North Korea from invasion.
“Reality shows if peace is sought, there must be preparations for war,” Choe said in a speech. “For us with our utmost task of building an economy and improving the lives of the people, a peaceful environment is greater than ever.”
The remarks were moderate in tone, without the bellicose rhetoric that routinely fills the North’s public commentary, and Choe did not mention the country’s nuclear arms programme or name the United States as its chief enemy.
Kim and Li, along with the North’s top military officials and the youthful leader’s uncle Jang Song-thaek, seen as North Korea’s second most powerful man, watched as a missile arsenal paraded past, including the newly developed mid-range Musudan.
Fighter jets and large military helicopters flew over the square packed with tens of thousands of soldiers, North Korean and foreign veterans of the Korean War and diplomats.
A military expert in Seoul said the parade appeared to feature weapons previously unseen in North, including new surface-to-air missiles that are used for anti-missile defence.
On Thursday, Kim met Li in what was the highest-level talks between the two countries after their ties seemed to fray following Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear tests in the past year, which led to tougher U.N. sanctions backed by Beijing.
Li told Kim that Beijing will push for talks on removing nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.
China’s official Xinhua news agency, in a commentary on Saturday, said the time was right for all sides to seek a permanent end to the state of hostilities on the peninsula, but added North Korea had to live up to its responsibilities.
“For Pyongyang’s part, its security concerns are understandable and should be addressed properly, but violating U.N. Security Council resolutions is not helpful. It has to keep its end of the bargain,” Xinhua said.
While anti-U.S. rhetoric was absent from the official ceremony, those attending the event were more than ready to pledge to strike their arch enemy when called to arms.
“American bastards have kept saying they will make war and that they will take over our country,” said 80-year-old veteran Jang Jong-hwan. “Though we are old, we have renewed our resolve not to loosen our grip on our guns and to serve leader Kim Jong-un for eternity and achieve unification.”
Li was also the leading guest on Friday night at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang where a national meeting was held lauding the heroic battle fought by the armies of the two countries against the United States.
It was followed by the Arirang mass games before a capacity 150,000-strong crowd at the stadium, with a card section of 80,000 children flipping messages that included “Nothing in the world to envy” and “We want to be in the army of our Generalissimo”.
In the South Korean capital Seoul on Saturday, veterans of some of the 16 countries that fought under the U.N. command during the Korean War marked the truce at a more intimate event.
“For the past sixty years, an uncertain peace that can be broken at any moment has been maintained,” South Korean President Park Geun-hye said. “The war has been suspended and we are in the midst of the longest truce.”
In 1950 the United States rallied the United Nations to send troops to counter the North’s invasion of the South, which was backed by Soviet forces. The allies nearly destroyed Kim Il-sung’s army when China intervened.
On July 27, 1953, military commanders representing North Korea, China and the United States signed the armistice, setting up a 240 km (150 mile) border across the peninsula that is the world’s most heavily guarded frontier.
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Michael Perry