North Korea is planning a “huge” Korean War armistice anniversary celebration this week that will be attended by Chinese diplomats, the first known foreign visitors since the 2020 pandemic closure of Pyongyang’s border.
State media said Pyongyang will mark 70 years since the signing of the armistice, known as Victory Day in the North, in a “big way that will go down in history.”
The official Korean Central News Agency reported, and Beijing confirmed, that a Chinese delegation led by Politburo member Li Hongzhong will travel to the North for the event – the first known visit by a foreign delegation since the start of the pandemic.
North Korea has been under a strict self-imposed coronavirus blockade since early 2020 to protect itself from Covid-19, preventing even its own nationals from entering the country.
It only resumed some trade with China last year, and allowed a new envoy to Beijing to take up his post earlier this year.
Beijing said the delegation would travel to Pyongyang on Wednesday, suggesting they would not have to undergo an extensive quarantine ahead of Thursday’s anniversary event.
An armistice agreement ending hostilities in the Korean War was signed on July 27, 1953 but the two Koreas remained technically at war because the agreement was never replaced by a peace treaty.
North Korea is expected to hold a large military parade and other events this week to mark the anniversary, with satellite images showing that soldiers and civilians have been training for the parade for months, Seoul-based specialist site NK News reported.
Leader Kim Jong Un’s largest nuclear-capable missiles and other military capabilities are likely to pass through Kim Il Sung Square during the event, it added.
“It is expected that North Korea will try to reap the benefits of Beijing condoning its nuclear development by unveiling a new ICBM when a high-level Chinese delegation attends its large military parade,” Yang Moo-jin, president of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told AFP.
“It seems the intention is to show the strengthening of unity between North Korea and China amid the global political disruption caused by the ongoing US-China conflict.”
He added that it could also be a sign that the border between the North and China could be reopened in the not-too-distant future.
North Korea fired two ballistic missiles late Monday, Seoul said, the latest in a series of weapons tests in recent weeks by Pyongyang, which comes as Seoul and Washington step up defense cooperation.
Last week South Korea hosted a visit by a US nuclear-capable submarine, its first deployment since 1981.
And in a move likely to further provoke the North, a second US submarine, the nuclear-powered USS Annapolis, arrived at a South Korean naval base on Monday.
Relations between the two Koreas are currently at one of their lowest points in history, as diplomacy between Pyongyang and Seoul has stalled and Kim has called for increased weapons development, including tactical nukes.
In efforts to strengthen deterrence, Seoul and Washington conducted joint military exercises with advanced stealth jets and US strategic assets.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have also dropped recently over the disappearance of a US soldier, Travis King, who was touring the demilitarized zone last week when he ran across the border into North Korea.
The UN Command, a US-led multinational force overseeing the ceasefire in the Korean War, said Monday it had begun discussions with Pyongyang about the missing American serviceman.