A close aide to the dictator told thousands of soldiers, performers and civilians gathered in Pyongyang that Donald Trump’s “reckless provocation” could be met with an “annihilating strike” using nuclear weapons.
Choe Ryong-hae was speaking to crowds celebrating the annual Day of the Sun, which marks the birth of Kim Il-sung, who founded North Korea’s totalitarian system and the Juche ideology now enforced by his grandson.
In celebration of the 105th anniversary of his birth, what appeared to be new long-range and submarine-launched missiles were rolled through Pyongyang alongside tanks and rocket systems as planes flew in formation overhead.
Goose-stepping soldiers, marching bands and dancers filled Kim Il-sung square for the festivities on Saturday, which came as group of nuclear-powered American warships steamed towards the region.
Kim, dressed in a suit, watched the show of military force from a balcony surrounded by aides before greeting the commander of North Korea’s missile forces.
He did not make a speech during the parade to honour his grandfather, but one of his top officials told delegates Mr Trump was guilty of “creating a war situation” by dispatching US forces to the area, including the USS Carl Vinson strike group.
“If the United States wages reckless provocation against us, our revolutionary power will instantly counter with annihilating strike, and we will respond to full-out war with full-out war and to nuclear war with our style of nuclear strike warfare,” Choe said.
State news agency KCNA said the Trump administration's “serious military hysteria” had reached a “dangerous phase which can no longer be overlooked”.
The US President has made a series of threats towards the DPRK, which was the main topic of talks with Chinese leaders earlier this month, writing on Twitter that he would “properly deal with North Korea” if Beijing was unable to rein in its ally.
China’s foreign minister urged both the US and North Korea to de-escalate the situation before it gets to an “irreversible and unmanageable stage” on Friday, calling on both sides to “refrain from provoking and threatening each other”.
“If a war occurs, the result is a situation in which everybody loses and there can be no winner,” Wang Yi warned amid growing fears that Pyongyang may be preparing for its sixth nuclear test or a major missile launch.
Unlike at some previous parades attended by Kim, no senior Chinese officials appeared to be in attendance for the Day of the Sun, indicating that North Korea’s largest ally may have fallen out of favour for speaking out against its weapons tests, supporting UN sanctions and calling for talks.
Experts have dismissed the country’s claims of developing a nuclear missile that could strike the mainland US but the appearance of inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched missiles at the parade suggested development is continuing.
Analysts said what appeared to be two new kinds of ICBM, enclosed in canister launchers mounted on the back of lorries, were shown, as were Pukkuksong submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which have a range of more than 600 miles.
Shannon Kile, a nuclear specialist at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), said North Korea had previously deployed “mock-ups” of missiles at its parades and it was difficult to verify the weapons on show.
He told The Independent what appeared to be the KN-08 ICBM was rolled out, although it has not yet been flight tested, as well as large canisters indicating the possible development of a “cold launch” long-range missile.
“It could be launched more quickly, it would be more difficult to detect it and the launcher could be re-used,” Mr Kile said, adding that progress in solid-fuel missile technology was previously seen with the KN-15’s test launch in February.
Whereas liquid-fuelled weapons rely on conspicuous convoys of military vehicles to launch, solid fuels allow the use of road-mobile missile launchers that can move quickly, hide and take an enemy by surprise.
The Day of the Sun parade also included what were believed to be KN-11 submarine-launched missiles and multiple rocket launchers aiming to launch salvo attacks that bypass defences.
Mr Kile said there was no indication that North Korea had succeeded in miniaturising a nuclear warhead able to be fired on a long-range missile, but that work was continuing to move nuclear weapons from an “existential deterrent to an operational war fighting role”.
North Korea frequently uses symbolic occasions to increase threats, and has previously paraded weapons before they are tested, while conducting key launches to coincide with political events.
John Nilsson-Wright, a senior research fellow for North East Asia at Chatham House, said a test could occur in the coming days to mark either the 85th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army on 25 April or the US Vice President’s visit to South Korea.
“The regime wants to emphasise its military strength and show a defiant face to the outside world,” he told The Independent.
“They can use the display of military hardware to make a statement to their own people and keep as a reserve the possibility of a test within the next few days.”
Dr Nilsson-Wright, who is also a senior lecturer at Cambridge University, said North Korea had made clear any new launch “will happen at the time and place of their choosing” in spite of increasing shows of force by Mr Trump.
International efforts to stop its nuclear programme have so far failed and the US missile attack on a Syrian government airbase and bombing of an Isis stronghold in Afghanistan raised questions over how Mr Trump could follow up on his fiery rhetoric against Pyongyang.
The US President described the US naval group heading towards the region as an “armada” last week, while his deputy Mike Pence warned that a policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea is over.
Mr Pence will arrive in South Korea, which is technically still at war with the North, on Sunday as part of a 10-day trip to Asia following the biggest-ever joint military exercises conducted by the two countries.
Dr Nilsson-Wright said Mr Trump may have “boxed himself into a corner” by vowing not to tolerate any violations by North Korea and sending the aircraft carrier even as White House statements back away from a military strike.
“A show of force has to be credible and the situation is so precarious that it’s hard for that to happen,” he added.
“I haven’t seen any evidence that North Korea is truly spooked.”
He said that although North Korea would not have missed the military might on show in Afghanistan, Kim Jong-un may be incentivised to push forward with weapons testing to “thumb his nose” at the US President.
“Mr Trump may have overreached here. Trying to channel his inner Nixon is probably not the most effective way of dealing with North Korea,” Dr Nilsson-Wright added.
“We come back to the basic problem, which is what can you do to really deter this country?”
Additional reporting by agencies