North Korea displayed new submarine-launched ballistic missiles under development and other military hardware in a parade that underlined leader Kim Jong Un’s defiant calls to expand the country’s nuclear weapons program.
State media said Kim took center stage in Thursday night’s parade celebrating a major ruling party meeting in which he vowed maximum efforts to bolster the nuclear and missile program that threatens Asian rivals and the American homeland to counter what he described as U.S. hostility.
During an eight-day Workers’ Party congress that ended Tuesday, Kim also revealed plans to salvage the nation’s economy, hit by U.S.-led sanctions over his nuclear ambitions, pandemic-related border closures and natural disasters that wiped out crops.
The economic setbacks have left Kim with nothing to show for his ambitious diplomacy with President Donald Trump, which derailed over disagreements about sanctions relief in exchange for North Korean denuclearization steps, and pushed Kim to what is clearly the toughest moment of his nine-year rule.
Kim’s comments are likely intended to pressure the incoming U.S. government of Joe Biden, who has previously called the North Korean leader a “thug” and accused Trump of chasing spectacle rather than meaningful curbs on the North’s nuclear capabilities. Kim has not ruled out talks, but said the fate of bilateral relations depends on whether Washington abandons its hostile policy toward North Korea.
North Korean state TV on Friday aired edited footage of the parade which showed thousands of civilians and troops roaring and fireworks exploding overhead as Kim stepped out of a building and took his spot at a podium in Kim Il Sung Square, named after his grandfather and the country’s founder.
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves as Kim attended a military parade, marking the ruling party congress, at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
Kim, wearing a black fur hat and leather trench coat, waved and smiled widely as his troops chanted “Let’s defend Kim Jong Un with our lives!” and “Protect with our lives the Workers’ Party of Korea’s Central Committee led by Great Comrade Kim Jong Un!”
Reports and video from state media suggested that Kim did not make a speech during the parade.
His defense minister, Kim Jong Gwan, said in a speech that North Korea’s military would “pre-emptively marshal our greatest might to thoroughly punish hostiles forces” if they threaten the North’s safety.
Military aircraft flew in formation across the dark sky, using what appeared to be flares to form the symbol of the Workers’ Party — a hammer, brush and sickle.
Flag-waving spectators, unmasked despite a fervent domestic campaign to fend off the coronavirus, cheered as troops rolled out some of the country’s most advanced weapons, including submarine-launched ballistic missiles described by the official Korean Central News Agency as the “world’s most powerful weapon.”
The new type of submarine-launched missiles was larger than the ones North Korea previously tested.
The North also displayed a variety of solid-fuel weapons designed to be fired from mobile land launchers, which potentially expand its capability to strike targets in South Korea and Japan, including U.S. military bases there.
KCNA said the parade featured other missiles capable of “thoroughly annihilating enemies in a pre-emptive way outside (our) territory.” But it wasn’t immediately clear whether the description referred to intercontinental ballistic missiles.
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, attends a military parade marking the ruling party congress, at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. North Korea rolled out developmental ballistic missiles designed to be launched from submarines and other military hardware in a parade that punctuated leader Kim Jong Un’s defiant calls to expand his nuclear weapons program. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
Photos and video released by state media didn’t appear to include weapons that could be definitely identified as ICBMs.
During a previous military parade in October, North Korea unveiled what appeared to be its biggest-yet ICBM. Its previous long-range missiles demonstrated a potential ability to reach deep inside the U.S. mainland during flight tests in 2017.
North Korea has been developing submarine-launched ballistic missile systems for years. Acquiring an operational system would alarm its rivals and neighbors because missiles fired from under water are harder to detect in advance.
Still, Kim Dong-yub, an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies and a former military official who participated in inter-Korean military talks, said the North’s presumably new submarine-launched missiles could possibly be engineering mockups that require further development before they are ready to be tested and deployed.
While Kim Jong Un vowed during the congress to develop nuclear-powered submarines capable of firing nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, it would take “considerable time” for North Korea to overcome financial and technological difficulties and produce such systems, the analyst said.
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, missiles are seen on truck a military parade marking the ruling party congress, at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said the way North Korea featured the submarine-launched missiles in the parade suggests that a test related to them could be North Korea’s first provocation for the Biden administration.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that it is studying the weapons displayed by North Korea but didn’t immediately release a detailed assessment.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Tokyo is monitoring North Korean missile developments with “great concern.”
Nuclear-powered submarines were just one of many advanced military assets on Kim’s wish list during the congress, which also included longer-range ICBMs that could potentially target the U.S. mainland more reliably, new tactical nuclear weapons and warheads, spy satellites and hypersonic weapons.
It’s unclear whether North Korea is fully capable of developing such systems. While the country is believed to have accumulated at least dozens of nuclear weapons, outside estimates of the exact status of its nuclear and missile program vary widely.
A city in northern China is building a 3,000-unit quarantine facility to deal with an anticipated overflow of patients as COVID-19 cases rise ahead of the Lunar New Year travel rush.
State media on Friday showed crews leveling earth, pouring concrete and assembling pre-fabricated rooms in farmland outside Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital of Hebei province that has seen the bulk of new cases.
That recalled scenes last year, when China rapidly built field hospitals and turned gymnasiums into isolation centers to cope with the initial outbreak linked to the central city of Wuhan.
China has largely contained further domestic spread of the coronavirus, but the recent spike has raised concerns due to the proximity to the capital Beijing and the impending rush of people planning to travel large distances to rejoin their families for country’s most important traditional festival.
The National Health Commission on Friday said 1,001 patients were under care for the disease, 26 of them in serious condition. It said that 144 new cases were recorded over the past 24 hours. Hebei accounted for 90 of the new cases, while Heilongjiang province farther north reported 43.
Nine cases were brought from outside the country, while local transmissions also occurred in the southern Guangxi region and the northern province of Shaanxi, illustrating the virus’ ability to move through the vast country of 1.4 billion people despite quarantines, travel restrictions and electronic monitoring.
Shijiazhuang has been placed under virtual lockdown, along with the Hebei cities of Xingtai and Langfang, parts of Beijing and other cities in the northeast. That has cut off travel routes while more than 20 million people have been told to stay home for coming days.
In all, China has reported 87,988 confirmed cases with 4,635 deaths.
The spike in northern China comes as World Health Organization experts prepare to collect data on the origin of the pandemic after arriving Thursday in Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019. Team members must undergo two weeks of quarantine before they can begin field visits.
Two of the 15 members were held up in Singapore over their health status. One of those, a British national, was approved for travel Friday after testing negative for the coronavirus, while the second, a Sudanese citizen from Qatar, had again tested positive, the Foreign Ministry announced.
The visit was approved by President Xi Jinping’s government after months of diplomatic wrangling that prompted an unusual public complaint by the head of WHO.
That delay, along with Beijing’s tight control of information and promotion of theories the pandemic began elsewhere, added to speculation that China is seeking to prevent discoveries that chisel away at its self-proclaimed status as a leader in the battle against the virus.
Scientists suspect the virus that has killed more than 1.9 million people since late 2019 jumped to humans from bats or other animals, most likely in China’s southwest.
Former WHO official Keiji Fukuda, who is not on the team, cautioned against raising expectations for any breakthroughs from the visit, saying that it may take years before any firm conclusions can be made.
“China is going to want to come out avoiding blame, perhaps shifting the narrative, they want to come across as being competent and transparent,” he told The Associated Press in an interview from Hong Kong.
For its part, the WHO wants to project the image that it is “taking, exerting leadership, taking and doing things in a timely way,” said Fukuda.
In Wuhan, street life appeared little different from other Chinese cities where the virus has been largely brought under control.
In a riverside park, senior citizens gathered to drink and dance while residents had praise overall for the government’s response to the crisis.
“Other countries are not very supportive and don’t pay attention to the pandemic, people go out arbitrarily, and they hang out and gather together, so it’s especially easy for them to be infected,” resident Xiang Nan said. “I hope they can stay home, and reduce traveling ... don’t let the pandemic spread further anymore.”
China is also pushing ahead with inoculations using home-developed vaccines, with more than 9 million already vaccinated and plans for 50 million to have the shot by the middle of next month.
The WHO team of international researchers that arrived in the central Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday hopes to find clues to the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The visit has been shrouded in secrecy, with neither China nor the WHO revealing exactly what the team will do or where it will go. The search for the origins is likely to be a years-long effort that could help prevent future pandemics.
The industrial and transportation hub on the Yangtze River is the first place the coronavirus surfaced in the world. It’s possible that the virus came to Wuhan undetected from elsewhere, but the city of 11 million is a logical place for the mission to start.
People began falling ill in December 2019, many with links to a sprawling food market that dealt in live animals. The growing number of patients triggered alarms that prompted China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention to send a team to investigate.
The disease would ravage Wuhan before it was brought under control in March. The city was locked down on Jan. 23 with little or no warning. The hardships endured and lives lost became a source of both sorrow and pride for residents once the 76-day lockdown was lifted on April 8.
WHAT IS THE TEAM’S AGENDA?
First they have to quarantine for 14 days, during which they will work with Chinese counterparts via video conference. Possible visits after quarantine are the Huanan Seafood Market, the site of the December 2019 cluster of cases, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Scientists initially suspected the virus came from wild animals sold in the market. The market has since been largely ruled out but it could provide hints to how the virus spread so widely. Samples from the market may still be available, along with the testimony of those involved in the early response.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology maintains an extensive archive of genetic sequences of bat coronaviruses built in the wake of the 2003 SARS pandemic, which spread from China to many countries. WHO team members would hope for access to lab logbooks and data, both junior and senior researchers and safety protocols for sample collection, storage and analysis.
WHY THE SECRECY?
China has firmly rejected calls for an independent outside investigation. The head of the WHO recently expressed impatience with how long China took to make necessary arrangements for the expert team’s visit.
The ruling Communist Party keeps a tight hold on information and is particularly concerned about possible revelations about its handling of the virus that could open it up to international criticism and financial demands.
China stifled independent reports about the outbreak and has published little information on its search for the origins of the virus. An AP investigation found that the government has strictly controlled all scientific research related to the outbreak and forbids researchers from speaking to the press.
State media continue to play up reports that suggest the virus could have originated elsewhere. In announcing the experts’ visit, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said “the tracing of the virus origin will most likely involve multiple countries and localities.”
A strong, shallow earthquake shook Indonesia’s Sulawesi island just after midnight Friday, toppling homes and buildings, triggering landslides and killing at least 34 people.
More than 600 people were injured during the magnitude 6.2 quake, which sent people fleeing their homes in the darkness. Authorities were still collecting information about the full scale of casualties and damage in the affected areas.
There were reports of many people trapped in the rubble of collapsed homes and buildings.
In a video released by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, a girl stuck in the wreckage of a house cried out for help and said she heard the sound of other family members also trapped. “Please help me, it hurts,” the girl told rescuers, who replied that they desperately wanted to help her.
The rescuers said an excavator was needed to save the girl and others trapped in collapsed buildings. Other images showed a severed bridge and damaged and flattened houses. TV stations reported the earthquake damaged part of a hospital and patients were moved to an emergency tent outside.
Another video showed a father crying, asking for help to save his children buried under their toppled house. “They are trapped inside, please help,” he cried.
Thousands of displaced people were evacuated to temporary shelters.
The quake was centered 36 kilometers (22 miles) south of West Sulawesi province’s Mamuju district, at a depth of 18 kilometers (11 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The Indonesian disaster agency said the death toll climbed to 34 as rescuers in Mamuju retrieved 26 bodies trapped in the rubble of collapsed homes and buildings.
The agency said in a statement that eight people were killed and 637 others were injured in Mamuju’s neighboring district of Majene.
It said at least 300 houses and a health clinic were damaged and about 15,000 people were being housed in temporary shelters in the district. Power and phones were down in many areas.
West Sulawesi Administration Secretary Muhammad Idris told TVOne that the governor’s office building was among those that collapsed in Mamuju, the provincial capital, and many people there remain trapped.
Rescuer Saidar Rahmanjaya said a lack of heavy equipment was hampering the operation to clear the rubble from collapsed houses and buildings. He said his team was working to save 20 people trapped in eight buildings, including in the governor’s office, a hospital and hotels.
“We are racing against time to rescue them,” Rahmanjaya said.
President Joko Widodo said in a televised address that he had ordered his social minister and the chiefs of the military, police and disaster agency to carry out emergency response measures and search and rescue operations as quickly as possible.
“I, on behalf of the Government and all Indonesian people, would like to express my deep condolences to families of the victims,” Widodo said.
The National Search and Rescue Agency’s chief Bagus Puruhito said rescuers from the cities of Palu, Makassar, Balikpapan and Jakarta were being deployed to boost rescue efforts in Mamuju and Majene.
Two ships were heading to the affected areas from Makassar and Balikpapan carrying rescuers and search and rescue equipment, while a Hercules plane carrying supplies was on its way from Jakarta.
Among dead in Majene were three people killed when their homes were flattened by the quake while they were sleeping, said Sirajuddin, the district’s disaster agency chief.
Sirajuddin, who goes by one name, said although the inland earthquake did not have the potential to cause a tsunami, people along coastal areas ran to higher ground in fear one might occur.
Landslides were set off in three locations and blocked a main road connecting Mamuju to the Majene district, said Raditya Jati, the disaster agency’s spokesperson.
On Thursday, a magnitude 5.9 undersea quake hit the same region, damaging several homes but causing no apparent casualties.
Indonesia’s meteorology, climatology and geophysical agency, known by its Indonesian acronym BMKG, warned of the dangers of aftershocks and the potential for a tsunami. Its chairwoman urged people in coastal areas to move to higher ground as a precaution.
Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 260 million people, is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.
In 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Palu on Sulawesi island set off a tsunami and caused soil to collapse in a phenomenon called liquefaction. More than 4,000 people died, many of the victims buried when whole neighborhoods were swallowed in the falling ground.
A powerful Indian Ocean quake and tsunami in 2004 killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.
For the first time in over five decades, India will not have a foreign leader as the chief guest at its Republic Day parade.
“Due to the global Covid-19 situation, it has been decided that this year there will not be a foreign head of state or government as the chief guest for our Republic Day event," Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told the media on Thursday.
The last time India did not invite any foreign leader was in 1966 due to the sudden demise of then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, following which Indira Gandhi was sworn in as the country's first female PM on January 24 that year, two days ahead of Republic Day.
India had invited British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for this year's Republic Day parade, but he cancelled his visit on January 5 amid a surge in Covid cases at home.
"The (British) Prime Minister spoke to Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi this morning, to express his regret that he will be unable to visit India later this month as planned," a spokesperson for Downing Street had said.
In December, the British PM accepted India's invitation to attend the parade.
India honours January 26 every year, the day on which the country's Constitution came into effect in 1950, replacing the Government of India Act (1935) as the governing document and thus, turning the nation into a newly formed republic.
However, this year, India has decided to scale down the Republic Day parade in the wake of Covid. The distance of the parade has been cut down to half -- from 8.2km to 3.3km. The spectator strength has also been brought down to 25,000 from 1,15,000.