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North Korea Holds Military Parade, Shows Off Weapons Ahead Of Olympic Opening

Feb 8, 2018
Originally published on February 8, 2018 6:18 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

North Korea is sending conflicting messages before the start of the Olympics tomorrow. Today it showed off the tanks and missiles it would use in war. It also showed off a sense of solidarity with South Korea. NPR's Elise Hu reports on the mixed signals.

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ELISE HU, BYLINE: Thousands of goosestepping soldiers marching in perfect unison, military vehicles speeding down the streets of Pyongyang, tanks and missiles on display while Kim Jong Un and his entourage watch from a balcony above - they are scenes from today's North Korean military parade, which looked like the ones you've probably seen before. But the timing of the latest event happens to coincide with a Winter Olympics just on the other side of the inter-Korean border.

MELISSA HANHAM: Organizing this parade started a while ago. And it may be that you just can't stop something of that magnitude once it's planned.

HU: Melissa Hanham is a researcher with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. She keeps a close eye on North Korea.

HANHAM: The Olympics are important. It seems like they are sending a delegation tomorrow. And it is very likely that they are going to try to put on a good face during the Olympics.

HU: The softer face of North Korea - its artists - appeared just hours after the parade and about 50 miles south near South Korea's Olympic host city.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Korean).

HU: South Korean supporters waving white unified Korea flags welcomed North Korea's musicians outside a rare orchestra performance. Kim Bok-ja was one of the few hundred who attended the concert.

KIM BOK-JA: (Through interpreter) I think this performance will help the inter-Korean relationship. We may have ideological differences, but I'm sure the emotional bond formed by culture and sports exchanges will bring us closer together.

HU: Melissa Hanham says she's not so sure.

HANHAM: One, all bets are off with North Korea, and two, they have reversed course quickly in the past.

HU: Course corrections could come from the U.S. side, too. Just before Vice President Mike Pence lifted off from Tokyo for Seoul, he emphasized the Trump administration's policy of trying to pressure and isolate Pyongyang. But he's also not ruling out contact with North Korean leaders when they all share a stadium at the opening ceremony tomorrow.

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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: We'll see if any kind of a meeting comes about in any context.

HU: One thing's certain. South Korea is trying to keep the diplomacy going. The South Korean president plans to host North Korean leaders for lunch on Saturday. That includes Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of the North Korean dictator. She'll be the first immediate member of the ruling Kim family to step foot in South Korea since the Korean War. Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MEMORY BAND'S "WHEN I WAS ON HORSEBACK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.