North Korea appears to have marked the founding anniversary of its armed forces last week in a low-key manner amid its nationwide efforts to stem the outbreak of the new coronavirus on its soil, according to state media reports.
North Korea’s 72nd anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army on Saturday has been closely monitored as Pyongyang has often used such dates as a chance to showcase its new weapons and flex its military muscle.
Some speculated that the North might unveil a “new strategic weapon” that its leader threatened to showcase in the near future in his New Year’s message, but experts said that the global outbreak of the highly contagious new coronavirus appear to make it hard for Pyongyang to organize any massive public events for the time being.
The Rodong Sinum, the official newspaper of the North’s ruling party, on Sunday carried an article and a photo featuring soldiers laying a bouquet of flowers before statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, the late grandfather and father of current leader Kim Jong-un, respectively.
The paper and other state media outlets have not provided any hints that the North has conducted a military parade or large-scale celebration in time for the anniversary, nor have they reported on leader Kim’s public schedules. It briefly mentioned that flowers sent by Kim were placed in front of the statues of the late leaders.
Observers said there is a possibility that the North held a military parade but did not report on it. But many said that Pyongyang appears to have marked the anniversary in a low-key manner this year as it is scrambling to stem the outbreak of the highly contagious new coronavirus in its country.
North Korea has intensified its preventive efforts against the coronavirus that causes a pneumonia-like illness and originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
Pyongyang has not reported any confirmed cases of infection but has tightened borders with China and strengthened quarantines for people arriving from the neighboring country.
Some also speculated that the North might not have staged a military parade this year given that Pyongyang usually commemorates such dates with large-scale events on every fifth and 10th anniversary and that in particular it wanted to avoid what could be seen as a provocation amid a stalemate in its denuclearization talks with Washington.
In his New Year’s message, leader Kim said that he does not feel bound to maintain a self-imposed moratorium on testing long-range and nuclear weapons in protest of an impasse in denuclearization negotiations with Washington, saying that the North will show off a “new strategic weapon” in the near future.
The North celebrated the foundation of its armed forces on Feb. 8 until 1977 but switched the anniversary to April 25 in 1978, the date when the late founder Kim Il-sung created anti-Japanese guerrilla forces in 1932. It was changed back to the original date in 2018 when the North held a large-scale military parade.