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North Korea held one of its most important military parades over the weekend. The country celebrated the 75th anniversary of its ruling Workers’ Party. The event featured heavily choreographed marches, as well as an emotional speech from Kim Jong-un who spoke about the country’s recent struggles.
In an unprecedented move, Kim held the event just before midnight and unveiled a “colossal” and previously unseen intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The “strategic weapon” has largely been interpreted as intended to prompt the US into further discussions over lifting trade restrictions.
It is true that the missile aroused the US’ attention, as Defence Secretary Mark Esper met with South Korea’s Defence Minister Suh Wook this week, and said: “We agree that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes remain a serious threat to the security and stability of the region and the world.”
This is especially salient given the North’s consistently aggressive rhetoric.
Perhaps the most aggressive exchange came in 2012 when Kim threatened a “merciless sacred war” against his southern neighbour.
It came just days after Pyongyang had struck a deal with the US to suspend its nuclear activities in return for aid.
The warning was a common tactic of the North.
It was, however, taken more seriously after lingering tensions and violence in 2010 saw 50 South Koreans killed, while fears of war raised tenfold.
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A North Korea military spokesman at the time offered some insight as to why Kim chose that moment to call for war.
They said Seoul was creating a “touch-and-go” environment because of joint military exercises with the US.
On Wednesday, after citing concerns over the North’s new ballistic missile, Mr Esper said: “The United States remains committed to the security of the Republic of Korea.”
However, echoing President Donald Trump’s calls, Mr Esper said a more equal deal between the South and US over defence costs must be found.
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This was so costs don’t “fall unequally on the American taxpayers”.
Some 28,500 American troops are deployed in South Korea.
The hefty military presence is seen as a deterrent to Pyongyang that also sends a message to China about US influence and capability in Asia.
Meanwhile, in a rare moment during the military parade, Kim apologised for his mishandling of the country through its recent tough times.
Removing his glasses, Kim wiped away tears, which analysts claim is an indication of mounting pressure on his regime.
He said: “Our people have placed trust, as high as the sky and as deep as the sea, in me, but I have failed to always live up to it satisfactorily.
“I am really sorry for that.
“Although I am entrusted with the important responsibility to lead this country upholding the cause of the great comrades Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il thanks to the trust of all the people, my efforts and sincerity have not been sufficient enough to rid our people of the difficulties in their lives.”
The address included talks of “grave challenges,” “countless ordeals” and “unprecedented disasters,” according to media accounts.
The North’s economy has taken a particularly bad hit as its trade with China – which accounts for 67.2 percent of the country’s exports and 61.6 percent of imports – has fallen considerably because of the pandemic.
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