North Korea Stages Military Parade Before Opening Of Pyeongchang Olympics

Feb 8, 2018
Originally published on February 8, 2018 6:00 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When North Korea's leader wants a military parade, he gets one. Just as the Winter Olympics are about to start in South Korea, North Korea's Kim Jong Un stepped outside wearing an overcoat and fedora on a cold winter day and watched thousands of his country's troops on the street.

(SOUNDBITE OF PARADE)

INSKEEP: Video shows the soldiers forming in a series of squares as a band plays. NPR's Elise Hu covers the Koreas and joins us now from Seoul. Hi, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hey there. Good morning.

INSKEEP: Interesting timing for a parade.

HU: Well, it is a legitimate anniversary. This marks the day the Korean People's Army was founded. A similar military parade was actually moved forward in the calendar in recent years. Now the regime has decided to move it back to this February date. And it's convenient because it gives North Korea this chance to show off its tanks and its missiles and its troops just as everyone's eyes are on the Korean Peninsula ahead of tomorrow's opening ceremony for the Olympics.

INSKEEP: OK. It's all symbolism, I guess. But it's not the only symbolic move by North Korea because they also sent this high-level delegation to South Korea for the Olympics, right, including Kim Jong Un's younger sister. Who is she? What is her position? What is her influence?

HU: That's right. So this delegation isn't quite here yet, but North Korea has announced who is coming. This sister, Kim Yo Jong is her name, she's influential by virtue of having her brother's ear.

INSKEEP: Sure.

HU: Immediate family, younger sister, about 30 years old. Someone that he trusts. Kim Jong Un has a brother, but it is Kim Yo Jong who is actually part of the Worker's Party, frequently in Kim Jong Un's entourage. And she's officially the deputy head of the Propaganda and Agitation Department.

INSKEEP: I love that name. That is fantastic.

HU: (Laughter) And it's an important government ministry. It's in charge of North Korean propaganda, which is so influential. And she personally keeps her brother's calendar and oversees his public events.

INSKEEP: OK. So the head of the Propaganda and Agitation Department goes to South Korea, and there other top people, as well. I'm thinking that sometimes, like when the United States was talking things through with Iran a few years ago, there would be some kind of a meeting on the side of other meetings. Is there a possibility of any kind of substantive discussion while the North Koreans are south of the DMZ?

HU: So far, both sides say, no, there's nothing planned. North Korea's Foreign Ministry said, we have no intention to meet the U.S. side during our visit to South Korea. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is here. He just got here to Seoul a few hours ago. He is leading the American delegation at the Winter Olympics, and he said, while there hasn't been a meeting requested, we'll see what happens.

But there are reasons to be skeptical about any high-level contact. We know, however, that South Korea and North Korea will be meeting at the top level. The South Korean president is hosting Kim Jong Un's sister and other North Korean leaders for lunch on Saturday. As to whether South Korea will try and facilitate something for America and North Korea, guess we'll go to what Mike Pence said...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

HU: We'll see.

INSKEEP: And, of course, Mike Pence on the way to South Korea also made some statements saying the U.S. wasn't going to downplay North Korea's misbehavior. Elise, thanks very much.

HU: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Elise Hu in Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.