North Korea staged a military parade early Thursday to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the country's founding, state-run media reported, with leader Kim Jong Un struggling to cope with the nation's worst food crisis in more than a decade.
Clad in a grey suit and tie, Kim watched the parade that began at midnight in Kim Il Sung Square, the capital's central area named after his grandfather and North Korea's founder, according to video footage broadcast later by the official Korean Central Television.
The military parade, believed to be aimed at generating national unity while avoiding a provocative tone, was North Korea's first since January this year, when the country held the first congress of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea in nearly five years.
Thursday's parade, in which paramilitary and public security forces took part, may also have been related to last month's South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises that prompted the North to warn of a "serious security crisis."
Pyongyang has long lambasted military drills between Seoul and Washington as rehearsals for war and invasion.
The two-hour footage, however, did not show ballistic missiles such as one that could target the U.S. mainland. Kim did not make a speech at the parade.
At a military parade in October 2020, North Korea showed off its cutting-edge intercontinental ballistic missile on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the ruling party, while unveiling a submarine-launched ballistic missile in January 2021.
Thousands of participants in Thursday's parade were confirmed not to have worn protective face masks, as North Korea claims the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19 has not made inroads into the nation.
The country's economy, meanwhile, has been languishing further, at a time when its negotiations with the United States on denuclearization and sanctions relief have been at a standstill for around two years.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) attends a military parade in Pyongyang in the early hours of Sept. 9, 2021, as reported in North Korea's Rodong Sinmun. (Photo courtesy of Korea Media)(Kyodo)
North Korea said earlier this year in a report to the United Nations that it has suffered its worst food crisis in over 10 years, with fears mounting that the country's citizens have encountered difficulties in obtaining daily essentials.
Kim said in June that the food situation in North Korea was "getting tense" as its agricultural sector was devastated by powerful typhoons and flooding in 2020.
The nuclear-armed nation also appears not to have imported food products recently from China, which is known as its closest and most influential ally in economic terms, as it has blocked the border with its neighbor amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Pyongyang has cut off land traffic to and from China and Russia since early last year to prevent the intrusion of the virus, first detected in China's central city of Wuhan in late 2019.
North Korea is seen to be vulnerable to infectious diseases against a backdrop of chronic shortages of food and medical equipment triggered by international economic sanctions designed to thwart its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.
Previously, North Korea barred foreigners from entering the country during the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014.
North Korea was established on Sept. 9, 1948, backed by the Soviet Union, Russia's predecessor state.
On the occasion of the 73rd anniversary of the nation's founding, Kim received messages from several political leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Korean Central News Agency reported.
"I highly value the development of the China-DPRK relations and have intent to develop these ties of friendship and cooperation on a long-term basis and in a stable way," Xi was quoted by the news agency as saying in his message.
DPRK is the acronym of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.
Putin told Kim in his message that relations between Russia and North Korea are "based on the good traditions of friendship and mutual respect," according to KCNA.
In the 1950-1953 Korean War, the North supported by China and the Soviet Union fought against the South backed by U.S.-led U.N. forces. Pyongyang has no diplomatic ties with Washington as the war ended in a cease-fire rather than a peace treaty.