Satellite images have revealed vast numbers of North Korean troops and vehicles practicing parade ground maneuvers ahead of Thursday's 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea.
The North Korean regime typically uses anniversaries as an opportunity to stage military parades through Kim Il-sung Square in central Pyongyang, mobilizing tens of thousands of local residents to cheer on.
"These anniversaries are very important to the leadership in Pyongyang as they celebrate with symbolism," said Dan Pinkston, a professor of international relations at Troy University's Seoul campus.
"We know that they have been working on a lot of new weapons systems and upgrading others, including rocket artillery, unmanned aerial vehicles and guided missiles, and it will be a political decision on whether to put them on display at the parade, but it's what they have done in the past," he told DW.
In 2017, the regime displayed a new intercontinental ballistic missile atop a tractor-trailer launcher vehicle at a parade to mark the anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung – founder of the nation and grandfather of present leader Kim Jong-un.
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The commercial satellite images of the Mirim parade training ground were captured on August 31 and published by the Washington-based Stimson Center think tank. They
reveal hundreds of vehicles parked alongside the parade ground, as well as thousands of troops in square marching formations.
The Mirim facility has undergone a significant upgrade in recent months. Makeshift tents have now been replaced with permanent garages, making it impossible for commercial satellites to determine what is present at the site.
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There are, however, clear tracks in the newly concreted area, indicating that vehicles are present in the garages.
"I would say that it is very probable that they will use this occasion to show off some new equipment, because they know that the world will be watching them very closely and it will be taking place less than one month ahead of the presidential elections in the US," Rah Jong-yil, a former diplomat and senior intelligence official in charge of monitoring North Korea, told DW.Stronger 'everyday'
According to Rah, the parade is a "good a chance" for Pyongyang "to send a series of messages."
He said that local media covering the parade aims to prove to North Koreans that despite all the hardships the nation has faced, the communist regime's military capacity is still strong.
Rah added that the parade may also try convey that the North has not been seriously impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Pyongyang insists that there are no cases of the disease within its borders, although epidemiologists have questioned that claim.
The message for the South Korean government will be that the North continues to improve its conventional and nuclear military capabilities, Rah added.
"For the US and the United Nations, the message is that the North has time on its side… They are communicating that despite all the sanctions and all the hardship, they are still managing to develop advanced new weapons and other equipment and that every day they are getting stronger," Rah said.
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Satellite imagery of a North Korean shipyard last week showed activity suggestive of preparations for a test of a medium-range submarine-launched ballistic missile, the US Center for Strategic and International Studies reported last Friday.
The think tank said the images it published on its website of North Korea's Sinpo shipyard showed several vessels within a secure boat basin, one of which resembled vessels previously used to tow a submersible test stand barge out to sea.
According to the center, the activity was "suggestive, but not conclusive, of preparations for an upcoming test of a Pukguksong-3 submarine launched ballistic missile from the submersible test stand barge."
But for Rah, "this is all part of the same message."North Korea "are telling the outside world that no matter the sanctions or threats, they will continue on the same path and that their system will survive," he said.
"From the North's perspective, October is going to be a very good opportunity to tell the world that they are not going away," he added, citing the upcoming US elections.
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