SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un brought his daughter to visit troops to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the country's army as he lauded the “irresistible might” of his nuclear-armed military, state media said Wednesday.
The visit preceded a massive military parade that apparently began Wednesday night in the capital, Pyongyang, where Kim was expected to showcase the latest hardware of his fast-growing nuclear weapons program that stokes the concern of its neighbors and the United States.
Two South Korean officials said the parade likely kicked off around 9 p.m. They didn’t provide further details and it wasn’t immediately clear whether Kim was attending. North Korean military parades are closely watched by outside governments and experts as they often feature newly developed weapons systems the North intends to eventually test and deploy.
In her fourth known public appearance, Kim's daughter, Kim Ju Ae, believed to be 9 or 10 years old, stood close to her father as he shook the hands of senior officials and then sat next to him at a table. Analysts say Kim’s decision to bring his daughter to public events tied to his military is to remind the world he has no intention to voluntarily surrender his nuclear weapons, which he apparently sees as the strongest guarantee of his survival and the extension of his family’s dynastic rule.
State media’s lofty description of Kim Ju Ae, who has been called “respected” and “beloved,” has also inspired debate on whether she’s being primed as her father’s successor. She attended a flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile in November and has accompanied her father to a meeting with military scientists and an inspection of ballistic missiles.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday that Kim visited the lodging quarters of the Korean People’s Army’s general officers with his daughter. He later gave an encouraging speech to troops at a banquet, praising them for maintaining the “strongest army in the world” despite external difficulties.
The visit came a day after Kim presided over a meeting with his top military brass and called for an expansion of combat exercises aimed at sharpening war readiness, as he looks to escalate an already provocative run in weapons demonstrations in the face of deepening tensions with his neighbors and Washington.
State media photos showed military officials applauding at the banquet, which appeared to be held at Pyongyang’s Yanggakdo Hotel. Kim and his daughter dressed alike in black suits and white dress shirts and held hands as they walked down a red carpet alongside Kim's wife, Ri Sol Ju.
Kim during his speech said it was his “greatest honor" and delight to be the supreme commander of an army that is “fulfilling (the) call of the times and history as the strongest army in the world.”
State media reports on Kim’s visit to troops didn’t mention any comments made toward Washington or Seoul. But Pyongyang’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in an editorial Wednesday that the North’s military is prepared to unleash a “super strong strike of unimaginable might to wipe out the origins of provocations without a trace” when facing enemy threats.
The newspaper said North Korea’s ramped up weapons tests and combat exercises last year were successful demonstrations of “overwhelming military might” that supports the government’s escalatory nuclear doctrine and its principle of “power-to-power, all-out confrontation” against enemies.
Residents in Pyongyang marked the anniversary by visiting the city’s Mansu Hill to lay flowers and pay respect to the statues of their late leaders, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, respectively the grandfather and father of their ruler, as soldiers lined up to salute.
North Korean state media haven't confirmed plans for a parade. But commercial satellite images have shown weeks of apparent preparations involving huge numbers of troops and civilians for the event typically intended to glorify Kim Jong Un’s rule and his relentless push to cement the North’s status as a nuclear power.
North Korea is also facing deepening economic isolation and food shortages, showing the costs of Kim’s nuclear ambitions are piling up.
North Korea is coming off a record-breaking year in weapons testing, and the dozens of missiles it fired in 2022 included potentially nuclear-capable systems designed to strike targets in South Korea and the U.S. mainland.
The intensified testing activity was punctuated by fiery statements threatening preemptive nuclear attacks against its neighbors and the United States in a broad range of scenarios where it may perceive its leadership as under threat.
Animosity could rise in coming months with Kim doubling down on his nuclear push entering 2023.
During a major political conference in December, Kim called for an “exponential increase” of the country’s nuclear warheads, mass production of battlefield tactical nukes targeting “enemy” South Korea and the development of more powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the continental United States.
Aside of developmental tests, North Korea could also dial up its military demonstrations in response the United States’ expanding combined militarily exercises with South Korea, which the allies say are aimed at countering the North’s evolving threat.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry last week warned that the country is prepared to counter U.S. military moves with the “most overwhelming nuclear force” as it condemned U.S. plans to expand its joint exercise with South Korea and deploy more advanced military assets like bombers and aircraft carriers to the region.