A top Chinese authority arrived in North Korea to attend the 70th anniversary of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) as Pyongyang prepares to hold one of its biggest military parades in recent times to mark the occasion. Liu Yunshan, member of the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, is the highest-level Chinese authority to visit North Korea since Kim Jong-un became leader.
Liu is widely seen as number five in the Communist party and his visit may even facilitate the rebuilding of ties between the two countries. China, a key ally of North, has been sending mixed signals over its proximity to Pyongyang in recent years.
The official's visit gains significance also because the WPK anniversary, which is on 10 October, is a key event in North and one of the biggest holidays. Preparations for the event are in full swing amid speculation that Pyongyang may also unveil new weaponry at the parade.
"Throughout the facility numerous groups of troops are seen assembling and moving in formation around the practice track, passing before the replica reviewing stand. Interestingly, there are several formations of horses and riders practicing on the track of the Mirim Riding Club — possibly in preparation for the parade," the US-based monitoring group 38 North, which closely watches North Korea, said in its latest analysis.
No less than 800 tents, 700 trucks and 200 military vehicles have been mobilised in the capital's training grounds as part of the months-long preparations for the anniversary. Earlier it was suspected, the reclusive nation would use the anniversary to launch a long-range rocket or conduct another nuclear test, but this has been largely ruled out.
"Given the six-month build-up and the high level of observable activity throughout the parade training facility, it would appear that the forthcoming parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Workers' Party of Korea, regardless of whether ballistic missiles are present or not, will be one of the largest in North Korea's history," 38 North said.
Prior to the group's report, South Korea had also said that the upcoming parade is anticipated to be "large in scale". Seoul's unification ministry spokesperson Jeong Joon Hee said: "It's very likely many weapons will be unveiled."