China, Russia Get First Invites to North Korea Since Pandemic

DALIAN, May 8, 2018 -- Xi Jinping (R), general secretary of the Central Committee of the C
Xinhua/Xie Huanchi via Getty Images

Communist North Korea invited officials from its closest allies, China and Russia, to attend festivities marking the anniversary of the Korean War armistice agreement scheduled for this Thursday — the first time Pyongyang has invited foreign dignitaries to the country since the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic began.

The Korean War — which split the peninsula and pitted allies China and America against each other — has been technically ongoing since 1950, as neither side signed a peace agreement nor surrendered. The armistice agreement signed in 1953 ended active warfare, creating the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the Koreas and resulting in the effective isolation of communist North Korea from the free world. Despite these facts, the Kim family cult that controls the country celebrates the armistice anniversary as “Victory Day” for the “Fatherland Liberation War” and typically forces citizens to partake in effusive parades and other homages to communist dynastic founder Kim Il-sung and the current dictator, grandson Kim Jong-un.

While the secretive regime is difficult to assess from abroad, expert observers believe that Pyongyang has implemented some of the strictest anti-coronavirus measures in the world. Shortly after the pandemic began in central China in 2020, North Korea shut its typically porous border along the Yalu River with China, reportedly issuing “shoot-to-kill” orders to border patrol soldiers. Cutting off sanctions-violating commerce with China resulted in reports of mass food shortages and starvation.

North Korea claimed not to document a single case of Wuhan coronavirus for years, then abruptly declared “victory” against the virus in August 2022, months after a surge reportedly causing upwards of a million cases. The first major sign of changes in the coronavirus policy of North Korea emerged nearly a year later, in July, when state media published images showing people not wearing sanitary masks for the first time since 2020. Analysts predicted the change in policy was in anticipation of a major event in the capital planned for the 70th anniversary of the armistice agreement, citing satellite evidence of the erection of stages, organization of mass displays, and other moves consistent with the planning of a parade.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Pyongyang’s official state news agency, reported on Monday that the Kim regime had invited a delegation from China to participate in “Victory Day” festivities. KCNA said that Beijing accepted the invitation and would sent a top Politburo member, Li Hongzhong, and a delegation of Communist Party officials to Pyongyang this week.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed the report on Tuesday.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War. Having a high-level Chinese delegation visit the DPRK [North Korea] and mark the occasion shows the high importance both sides attach to our bilateral ties,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters during a press briefing. “We believe this visit will contribute to the sound and stable growth of bilateral relations, to regional peace and stability, and to creating conditions for the political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issues.”

On Tuesday, KCNA confirmed that it had extended a similar invitation to Russia and that Moscow had responded with plans to send Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who has maintained a low profile since the Wagner Private Military Group (PMC) invaded Russia with plans to oust him, then ceased its mutiny less than 24 hours later in June.

The Russian Defense Ministry similarly confirmed the news on Tuesday, celebrating that the embattled defense minister’s presence in North Korea would “contribute to strengthening bilateral military ties and mark an important stage in the development of cooperation between the two countries,” according to the Russian news agency Tass.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency noted that the invitations were a departure from what had been coronavirus pandemic protocol for the North since 2020. The Chinese delegation received “the first known invitation of official foreign guests” since the pandemic. Pyongyang only allowed China to return its ambassador in the capital, Wang Yajun, in March – the first time Wang exercised his post on North Korean soil since being appointed in February 2021.

Yonhap noted that South Korean officials were expecting that the signs of opening up may soon lead to the reopening of its border – presumably with China, as the Korean border (the DMZ) is heavily armed and rarely allows crossings.

“While it’s too early to assess whether North Korea is fully reopening its border, there has been an overall easing of antivirus measures and signs of preparations to participate in an international sporting event,” an unnamed official at the South Korean Unification Ministry told reporters this week.

North Korea previewed Thursday’s event as a “grand political festival” to mark the 70th anniversary of “the victory in the Fatherland Liberation War.” KCNA reported that Korean War veterans and other notable officials from other parts of North Korea traveled to Pyongyang on Monday and received an official Korean Workers’ Party (WPK) welcome at Pyongyang’s train station. Rodong Sinmun, the official regime newspaper, flooded its pages with propaganda celebrating the “brilliant victory” in a war that has not officially ended.

“Our new-born Republic was no match for the enemy in any respect, whether military hardware or economic strength, population or territory;” Rodong Sinmun proclaimed, “yet in this war the DPRK defeated the US imperialists, who had boasted of being the ‘strongest’ in the world, and their vassal forces and defended our territory and sovereignty.”

“No event of such heroic and legendary importance had ever before been recorded in the histories of our nation and the world revolution,” the state newspaper alleged.

Rodong Sinmun also alluded to the illegal development of nuclear weapons under the Kim regime, and the debut of a new alleged intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the “Hwasong-18,” this month.

“Today, our Republic has equipped with all kinds of absolute weapons in the world and secured a strategic position the world cannot ignore but must recognize,” the newspaper asserted. “Gone forever is the era when the United States blackmailed us with nukes and we are the very source of the greatest threat and fear for it. The DPRK’s will to annihilate provokers and aggressors completely, if they dare to provoke, is by no means an empty talk.”

North Korea claimed a successful launch of the “Hwasong-18” in mid-July, identifying it as a solid-fuel vessel, which would make it far harder to detect rapidly if launched than its liquid-fueled predecessors. The United Nations warned during a Security Council emergency meeting on the ICBM that it appears to be able to “reach most points on Earth.”

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