A North Korean parade has spelled out the message ‘defend with your life’ in a Pyongyang square in an apparent rehearsal ahead of a party congress in January.
Satellite imagery showed the propaganda phrase being spelled out in Korean by people standing in formation and holding up red placards in Kim Il-sung Square.
The think-tank 38 North says political messages of this kind are ‘common during this kind of event and require practice to perfect timing and accuracy’.
A new structure has also appeared in the square in recent days as North Korea prepares for the ruling party showpiece – which is expected to include at least one parade and take place around the time of Joe Biden‘s inauguration as US president.
‘Defend with your life’: Satellite imagery showed this propaganda message being spelled out in Kim Il Sung Square in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a politburo meeting on Wednesday where preparations were made for the upcoming party congress
Kim Il-sung Square, named after the founder of Communist North Korea, would be the likely venue for a military parade to coincide with the party congress.
Earlier this month, troops and cargo trucks were spotted at a parade training ground outside the centre of Pyongyang in a possible rehearsal for the January events.
The phrase ‘defend with your life’ or similar has appeared in North Korean propaganda before, including while Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong-il was in power.
The present Kim is expected to use the congress – the first since 2016 – to rally public support after a year of economic struggles worsened by the pandemic and border closure with China.
Kim’s high-stakes diplomacy with Donald Trump ended with no sanctions relief, and Biden’s incoming administration is not expected to ease sanctions either.
The Democrat will take office on January 20, with the party congress set to convene in the same month although no start date has been given yet.
At home, Kim is likely to use the congress to focus on domestic issues such as the ailing economy and North Korea’s ‘juche’ ideology of self-reliance, analysts said.
‘Juche is truly being tested for the first time because the pandemic has forced North Korea into self isolation, when until now, it has been able to rely on China as a life support even during the harshest of economic times,’ said Duyeon Kim, a North Korea expert at the US-based Center for a New American Security.
North Korea claims to have had no coronavirus cases, but publicly reported trade with China has tumbled by 75 following the border closure.
In an unusually emotional speech at a parade in October, Kim apologised for failing to deliver on his economic promises, but also struck a defiant tone.
The dictator vowed to crack down on officials accused of corruption or failing the people, and doubled down on his programme of expanding the nuclear deterrent.
Kim met Donald Trump at three theatrical summits in 2018 and 2019 but failed to strike a deal on sanctions relief – with Joe Biden not expected to ease sanctions on Pyongyang either
In October, Kim called on his country to embark on an 80-day campaign to achieve its goals in every economic sector before the congress in January.
Kim chaired a politburo meeting on Tuesday to prepare for the congress, state media reported.
‘North Korea’s political and economic policies may become more conservative, given the prolonged difficulties and the likelihood of their continuation into 2021,’ said researcher Rachel Minyoung Lee.
‘Consequently the regime’s perceived need to reinforce control to ensure national stability,’ said Lee, a former North Korea analyst for the US government.
Analysts will also be watching for major leadership shuffles, which could provide clues to Kim’s plans for the future.
The 2016 congress saw Kim officially elected to the position of chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party, and this gathering will likely be used to further cement his rule.
Kim coukd offer some kind of olive branch to South Korea after saying in October that he hoped the two countries could repair relations after the coronavirus pandemic.
But Kim may not break his silence on the stalled talks with the United States or the new Biden administration, Lee said.
‘He will probably want to maintain some flexibility until the Biden administration’s North Korea policy takes shape,’ she said.