DPRK gears up for Saturday founder’s celebration amid rising tensions

World Today

In this undated photo distributed on Friday, April 14, 2017, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, watches a military drill at an undisclosed location. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Pyongyang residents have been preparing for the 105th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung, the country’s late founder and grandfather of current ruler Kim Jong Un, against a backdrop of rising global tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Earlier Friday, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Vice Minister Han Song Ryol told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that his country will keep building up its nuclear arsenal in “quality and quantity” and said Pyongyang is ready to go to war if that’s what U.S. President President Donald Trump wants.

U.S. Army tanks conduct a military exercise in Paju, South Korea, near the border with the DPRK, Friday, April 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Known as “the Day of the Sun”, the celebration for Kim Il Sun is the DPRK’s most important holiday. The festivities normally normally include an immense military parade and synchronized public performances, sometimes involving tens of thousands of people. Pyongyang residents have been seen practicing.

Tensions have risen with the dispatch of a U.S. aircraft carrier to the area and the deployment of thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops, tanks and other weaponry for their biggest joint military exercises. Pyongyang has warned of war if it sees any signs of aggression from south of the Demilitarized Zone.

Pyongyang says the military exercises are practice for an invasion of the DPRK, and has warned of a nuclear attack on the United States in retaliation for any signs of aggression. That threat, however, has been made numerous times in the past.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Friday that there can be no winners in a war between the U.S. and the DPRK over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. Wang pledged support for dialogue on both sides.

Wang’s comments mark the latest attempt to cool tensions by the DPRK’s most important ally and key provider of food and fuel aid. Any fighting on the Korean Peninsula is likely to draw in China, which has repeatedly expressed concerns about a wave of refugees and the possible presence of U.S. and South Korean troops on its border.

“Once a war really happens, the result will be nothing but multiple loss. No one can become a winner,” Wang told reporters at a news conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

“Therefore, we call upon all the parties, no matter verbally or in action, to stop provoking and threatening each other and not to allow the situation to become irretrievable and out of control,” Wang said.

He urged all sides to take a flexible approach to resuming dialogue.

“As long as dialogue takes place, it can be official or unofficial, through one channel or dual channels, bilateral or multilateral. China is willing to give support to all of them,” Wang said.

Wang last month urged the DPRK to suspend its nuclear weapon and missile tests in exchange for South Korea and the U.S. putting their war games on hold, reviving a proposal first raised by Pyongyang. Washington swiftly dismissed the idea, but some observers have said administration officials may be becoming more amenable to renewed dialogue with the North.

Despite their historic ties as neighboring communist states, China has grown increasingly frustrated with the refusal of Kim Jong Un’s regime to heed its admonitions, and in February cut off imports of DPRK coal that provide Pyongyang with a crucial source of foreign currency.

Starting Monday, the Chinese flag carrier Air China temporarily cancelled some flights from Beijing to Pyongyang, state broadcaster CCTV reported. No reason was given.

Air China and the DPRK’s Air Koryo are the only two airlines serving that route, with the latter operating on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Chinese experts said they see little immediate possibility of hostilities breaking out, but warned that Beijing will respond harshly to any further DPRK nuclear tests.

Director of Jilin University’s Institute of Northeast Asian Studies Guo Rui said that Trump’s domestic troubles should prevent him taking such action, while the DPRK doesn’t appear to be on a war footing. Another nuclear test would invite tougher measures from Beijing, Guo said.

Pang Zhongying of the School of International Studies at Beijing’s Renmin University agreed that military action was unlikely, but said another DPRK nuclear test would mark “the crossing of a red line” that China was prepared to respond to.

Japan also said it was maintaining high levels of surveillance and taking “every possible measure” to respond to any contingency on the Korean Peninsula.

A senior Russian lawmaker also said that the U.S. is a greater threat to global peace than the DPRK.

Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the upper house of Russian parliament, said Friday “the most alarming thing about the current U.S. administration is that you can’t be sure if it is bluffing or really going to implement its threats.”

He says “America objectively poses a greater threat to peace than North Korea,” adding that “the entire world is scared and left guessing if it strikes or not.”

Kosachev says there is a “small hope” that President Donald Trump’s administration would listen to warnings from Russia and China not to use military force against nuclear-armed Pyongyang.

The Kremlin says it’s watching the developments around the DPRK with “great concern.”

Story by the Associated Press