North Korea has staged a military parade to celebrate the first congress of the ruling Workers' Party in nearly five years, state-run media reported Friday, in a show of force just days before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated.
Clad in a leather coat and fur hat, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watched the parade held on Thursday night in Pyongyang, video footage broadcast on the official Korean Central Television showed.
The Korean Central News Agency said "the world's most powerful" weapons, such as a submarine-launched ballistic missile, appeared during the parade at Kim Il Sung Square, the capital's central area named after Kim Jong Un's grandfather and North Korea's founder.
The footage, however, did not show an intercontinental ballistic missile that could target the U.S. mainland, while Kim did not make a speech on the occasion of the parade.
The country's first military parade since October comes as Democrat Biden is scheduled to take office next Wednesday and launches a new administration that would determine the future course of bilateral negotiations on North Korea's denuclearization.
Defense Minister Kim Jong Gwan was quoted by KCNA as saying in his speech at the parade that North Korea will "preemptively use the strongest offensive power to thoroughly smash the hostile forces if they jeopardize the security of our state even a bit."
The military parade started around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and lasted about three hours, diplomatic sources said. They said diplomats stationed in Pyongyang were instructed by North Korean authorities not to go outside that day.
At the parade, thousands of marching troops were confirmed not to have worn protective face masks, as North Korea claims the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease has not made inroads into the nation.
During the eight-day congress that ended Tuesday, Kim Jong Un displayed a confrontational attitude toward the United States, describing Washington as Pyongyang's "foremost principal enemy," according to the news agency.
Kim also pledged to further strengthen North Korea's nuclear arsenal, saying, "The entity of the U.S. and the real intention of its policy toward the DPRK will never change, whoever comes into power in the U.S."
DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.
At the congress, meanwhile, Kim said, "Strong defense capabilities of the state never preclude diplomacy but serve as a great means that propels toward the correct orientation and guarantees its success."
"A key to establishing a new relationship between the DPRK and the U.S. lies in the U.S. withdrawal of its hostile policy towards the DPRK," Kim added, suggesting that he might remain eager to continue talks with Washington.
On Sunday, Kim was elected general secretary of the ruling party, taking over the top post held by his late father, Kim Jong Il, the country's former leader.
All eyes are now on whether Kim Jong Un would change his title as national leader from chairman of the State Affairs Commission to president, a title last held by his grandfather, at the nation's top legislature, the Supreme People's Assembly, to be convened Sunday.
After the previous congress in 2016, the first in 36 years, Kim accelerated the development of nuclear weapons and ICBMs, which could become a direct threat to the United States. In November 2017, he declared the completion of a "state nuclear force."
Since June 2018, Kim has held meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump three times, but their denuclearization negotiations have made no progress, making it more difficult for Pyongyang to persuade Washington to lift economic sanctions.
At home, North Korea's economy has languished since it cut off traffic to and from neighboring China and Russia early last year in an attempt to prevent the virus, first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, from entering.
The plunge in trade with China, Pyongyang's closest and most influential ally, and the devastation of North Korea's agricultural sector by powerful typhoons and flooding have sparked concerns that its citizens may not be receiving adequate daily necessities.
China's trade with North Korea plummeted to its lowest level for a second straight month in November, government data showed. North Korea depends on China for more than 90 percent of its trade.
Kim acknowledged during the congress that North Korea failed to achieve the economic development goals set in its strategy through 2020 in almost all sectors.