PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea will be staging a major military parade, huge rallies and revived iconic mass games on Sunday to mark its 70th anniversary as a nation. Here’s a look at what’s in store and why it matters:
SEEKING INTERNATIONAL ACCEPTANCE
Sunday is the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s founding day, when it officially became an independent country.
Marking anniversaries with spectacular rallies or other events is a North Korean tradition, but this one is especially important because it comes as leader Kim Jong Un is trying to establish himself as a powerful player on the world stage and gain international acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.
It has invited media from around the world to make sure the event gets wide coverage. It is also important inside North Korea as a means of boosting national pride and unity. North Koreans across the country have been mobilized for beautification efforts big and small, from filling potholes in rural roads to helping carry out major construction projects.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Officially, that’s hard to say. North Korea rarely releases much information about these sorts of events ahead of time, though they have sent out invitations to diplomats living here.
The main event as in previous years will be a military parade in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square.
This year’s parade is expected to be large, but with Kim trying to pursue a more diplomatic course lately, it is unclear whether North Korea will display its latest missiles or other advanced weaponry that might provoke criticism from its neighbors. It did display its longest-range missiles in a parade in February, so such a move wouldn’t be a surprise.
The parade will be followed by a mass torch rally in the capital. For the first time in five years, its iconic mass games will be revived for what is expected to be a several-week run. The games, called “Glorious Country” this year, feature thousands of North Koreans working in precise unison in the stands to create giant, elaborate pictures by flipping colored cards while thousands more perform gymnastic or dance routines in the playing field area.
On Friday, thousands of people were still practicing their parts in the Sunday extravaganza. Students and workers filled several plazas around the city waving flags or bouquets of plastic flowers used to spell out the leader’s name or patriotic slogans when seen from Kim Jong Un’s balcony seat.
Foreign dignitaries and delegations from around the world have been arriving in Pyongyang over the past several days. The groups range from a senior party and government delegation from Syria to ethnic Koreans visiting from Japan.
Though speculation had been high North Korea might try to invite heads of state to the anniversary, that doesn’t appear to be the case. China will send its third-top party official instead of President Xi Jinping, bringing the expected guest list down a notch or two in significance. Xi’s presence would have been an important “get” for Kim, because China is such an important backer of his regime.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has also made other plans, and with their denuclearization talks stalled and his problems at home mounting, U.S. President Donald Trump will be absent as well.
Japan’s controversial pro-wrestler-turned-parliamentarian Kanji “Antonio” Inoki has decided to attend, against his government’s advice. And South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced he will come to Pyongyang as well, but not until later this month.
As a consolation, North Korea watchers can return to one of their favorite pastimes, scrutinizing which North Korean officials make it to the viewing balcony with Kim. That’s a sign of who is in or out of favor.
Talmadge is the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @EricTalmadge