North Korea likely to stage large scale military parade on eve of Pyeongchang Olympics

Posted on : 2018-01-29 17:12 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Unification Minister downplays any connecting, calling it an “an internal North Korean event”
Unification Minister Cho Myong-gyon gives a lecture entitled
Unification Minister Cho Myong-gyon gives a lecture entitled

The growing likelihood of North Korea staging a large-scale military parade just before the Pyeongchang Olympics opening ceremony for the 70th anniversary of its armed forces on Feb. 8 is raising questions about the potential impact on the reconciliation climate taking shape on the peninsula. The administration has downplayed the connection between the parade and the Olympics, calling the former an “internal North Korean event.”

Commenting on the parade’s timing in a Jan. 27 press interview, Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon said, “It has nothing to do with the Pyeongchang Olympics – the dates just happened to coincide.”

“It’s an event in response to internal demand in North Korea, not something that's suddenly being staged to target the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics,” Cho argued, stressing that the parade and Olympics should “properly be viewed as separate.”

North Korea’s previous announcement on Jan. 24 that the military foundation anniversary had been changed to Feb. 8 raised questions about the reason for its decision. The anniversary was originally celebrated on Feb. 8, the date the People’s Army was established in 1948. But when then-leader Kim Il-sung moved in 1978 to change the military’s establishment date to Apr. 25, 1932, when the anti-Japanese guerrilla unit was organized, the anniversary date was changed as well.

Inje University professor Kim Yeon-chul said the change in the anniversary date was “a matter of the Kim Jong-un regime restoring the old date after it was changed in 1978” and “cannot be viewed as connected to the Pyeongchang Olympics.” But observers in and around the administration have voiced concerns the North Korean military parade could spoil the current hard-won climate for dialogue.

Conservative have gone on the offensive, arguing that Pyongyang’s preparations for a large-scale military parade on the eve of the Olympics – when South Korean and US military authorities have moved to postpone their joint exercises originally scheduled during the Games – represent a “clear provocation.” The development could also fuel arguments that South Korea and the US should resume their exercises in response if North Korea goes ahead with the parade.

The sight of North Korean staging a parade with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and other state-of-the-art weaponry the day before the opening ceremony is also likely to come across as a “show of force” to the international community – placing no small burden on Seoul as it tries to sustain inter-Korean dialogue.

Speaking on the Voice of America network on Jan. 26, Pentagon spokesperson Heather Babb said the US and South Korea would be honoring the Olympic spirit by ensuring no overlapping with the start of annual joint military exercises until the Winter Olympics are over. The topic of North Korea’s military parade is also likely to have come up at a meeting of the South Korean and US Defense Ministers at the US Pacific Command in Honolulu the same day.

The South Korean Ministry of National Defense said the two ministers “reaffirmed their shared goal of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and agreed to cooperate closely with the international community to ensure that the resumption of inter-Korean dialogue with the Pyeongchang Olympics is in support of this goal.”

By Kim Ji-eun, staff reporter

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