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N. Korea military parade shows efforts to strike balance between neighbors, US

A text reading "April 27 Declaration, Age of Peace, Starting Point of History" was shown during a mass performance as part of the 70th anniversary of the foundation of North Korea in the capital Pyongyang on April 9, 2018. (Mainichi)

PYONGYANG -- North Korea organized a recent military parade and other ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of its founding to strike a balance between its consideration toward the United States over their June agreement to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, and its appearance of friendship toward China and South Korea.

During the military parade on Sept. 9, Pyongyang saved a seat right next to its supreme leader Kim Jong Un for China's special envoy Li Zhanshu, the third-ranking member in China's ruling Communist Party and the head of China's parliament. Sitting side by side, the two men came closer on several occasions to exchange words. At one point, Kim grabbed Li's hand and hoisted it high in an apparent bid to show close ties between North Korea and China.

Kim had a meeting with Li the same day and agreed to develop their bilateral relationship. According to China's state news agency Xinhua, Kim emphasized that he is strictly maintaining the denuclearization agreement with U.S. President Donald Trump and "has taken measures to that end." Kim also stated that he wants the U.S. to take appropriate measures and work together toward a political settlement of matters relating to the peninsula. Li handed a letter from Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Kim.

An apparent effort to show closer ties with its neighbor and longtime rival South Korea was also visible during a mass performing art session organized on the night of the anniversary. Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju attended the event at the May Day stadium in the capital.

About 17,500 students participating in the performance used colored cardboards in their hands to show an animation of Kim and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in coming closer to cross the armistice line between the two Koreas and shake hands -- a depiction of their April 27 summit. Texts reading "April 27 Declaration, Age of Peace, Starting Point of History," and "Our people must establish a new history of unification," popped up during the performance. When a famous tune calling for the unification of the Korean Peninsula was broadcast, the capacity crowd filling the stadium exploded with thunderous applause.

The reason behind Pyongyang's move to focus on its friendship with Beijing and Seoul was its dissatisfaction against the United States. A North Korean official confided that the ordinary citizens in the reclusive communist state generally do not trust the U.S. "We have been hostile for a long period of time, so building trust is important, but the United States is doing nothing," the official said.

Another factor pushing North Korea in this direction is its desire to improve its economy through closer ties with China and South Korea, two countries serving as Asia's economic engines. During the parade on Sept. 9, placards reading "People first" and "Respect people" were shown, suggesting that the Kim regime is focusing on making people's lives better. Some 150 foreign reporters were allowed to visit facilities connected with the economy such as a cosmetics factory and farms.

A North Korean official told reporters about the country's hopes for closer cooperation with South Korea. "The only way forward for us is to cooperate and develop together. To that goal we must settle issues related to our people (in North and South Korea) by ourselves," the official said, in an indirect attempt to stop Washington's intervention.

(Japanese original by Chiharu Shibue, Seoul Bureau)

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