Kim Jong-Un boasted on Saturday that his country could fight any war provoked by US “imperialists”, as he presided over a vast military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party.
Thousands of troops marched through the capital, Pyongyang, followed by columns of tanks and ballistic missiles in one of the largest ceremonial displays of military strength in North Korea’s history.
Dressed in his customary dark Mao suit, Kim struck a more belligerent note than in previous public addresses, telling the assembled masses that North Korea could fight any war begun by the US.
Buildings surrounding the square, which is named after Kim’s grandfather, the founding leader of North Korea, were festooned with red hammer-and-sickle party flags and the national colours of blue, white and red.
“Our party dauntlessly declares that our revolutionary armed forces are capable of fighting any kind of war provoked by the US and we are ready to protect our people and the blue sky of our motherland,” he said, speaking Pyongyang’s Kim Il-Sung square.
His words were met with rapturous applause from tens of thousands of flag-waving spectators, while above the square, a large banner slung from a gas-filled balloon read: “Long live the invincible Workers’ Party of Korea.”
Nuclear-armed North Korea often threatens to destroy the US and South Korea, whom it technically remains at war with after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce rather than a treaty.
As night fell after the parade – a tribute to the ruling party that three generations of the Kim dynasty have ruled over – Pyongyang’s skyline was lit up with a fireworks display over the banks of the Taedong River.
On the ground, crowds held up coloured squares in synchronised fashion to create huge images of Worker Party flags and spell out the name of Kim Jong-Un.
The scale of the event was already apparent from satellite images taken four days before which showed a sprawling training ground in Pyongyang featuring some 800 tents, 700 trucks and 200 armoured vehicles.
When announcing plans for the “grand-style” parade back in February, the ruling party’s top decision-making body had stressed the importance of displaying “cutting-edge” weaponry suitable for modern warfare.
An exhaustively researched report published this week by the US-based Institute for Science and International Security estimated that North Korea had between 10 and 16 nuclear weapons as of the end of 2014.
The report argued it was likely the country could already build a warhead to fit atop a Nodong missile – with a range of less than 800 miles (1,300 kilometres) – but added that the reliability of such a weapon was open to question.
Months of planning and preparation have gone into Saturday’s celebrations, involving a mass mobilisation of state personnel and resources to ensure its success.
The capital was given a comprehensive makeover – its streets lined and decorated with giant posters, red banners and national flags, many of them displaying the numerals “10-10” in reference to the ruling party’s official October 10 birthday.
However, China was the only foreign nation to send a dignitary of any significance to the event, despatching Liu Yunshan, a party politburo standing committee member. He stood clapping to Kim Jong-un’s left, with senior North Korean officials on the right.
Kim Jong-un met with Liu met for talks on Friday, during which the Chinese official delivered a letter from President Xi Jinping, and voiced Beijing’s willingness to work with Pyongyang on resuming multi-party talks on its nuclear programme.
China remains North Korea’s most important diplomatic ally and economic partner, although Beijing has grown increasingly impatient with Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons ambitions.
Choreographed events do not always go entirely according to plan in North Korea, despite the extensive planning. Recently, Kim Jong-un’s sister was sacked from overseeing the North Korean leader’s personal protection after a series of mishaps, including an incident in which he was nearly hit in the face with a guitar.
Kim Yo-jong, 26, was elevated to a number of key positions in the regime last year, including serving as a key political adviser to her older brother. Described in state media as “a core worker of the Workers’ Party Central Committee”, one of her tasks has been to promote Mr Kim’s image at the same time as ensuring his safety.
South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper has reported that Ms Kim was replaced after a number of incidents involving the nation’s supreme leader, including Mr Kim being mobbed by over-zealous citizens at a youth festival