High-Level Russian and Chinese Delegations Visit North Korea to Discuss Military Cooperation

High-level Russian and Chinese delegations visited North Korea to discuss military issues and regional security as the isolated country observed the 70th anniversary of the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War.

Moscow sent a delegation led by Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, while Beijing’s was headed by Li Hongzhong, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.

The delegations to the capital Pyongyang were the first of their kind since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed that Mr. Shoigu talked on Wednesday with North Korean Defense Minister Kang Sun Nam about “strengthening cooperation between our defense departments.”

According to North Korean state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the meeting had been productive, and a consensus had been reached on “matters of mutual concern in the field of national defense and security and on the regional and international security environment.”

The meeting would help to “further boost the strategic and tactical collaboration and cooperation between the two countries in the field of national defense and security,” KCNA said, adding that the Russian defense minister was briefed on the country’s plans to expand its military capabilities.

The Russian envoy had also handed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a “warm and good letter” signed personally by Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to KCNA.

North Korea has been aligning with Russia over the war in Ukraine, insisting that the “hegemonic policy” of the U.S.-led West forced Moscow to take military action to protect its security interests.

NTD Photo
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, with a Russian delegation led by its Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, visits an arms exhibition in Pyongyang, North Korea, on July 26, 2023. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Mr. Kim accompanied Mr. Shoigu to an arms exhibition showcasing North Korea’s latest weapons.

KCNA showed photos and footage of the two walking past rockets, including what appear to be Hwasong-18 missiles, North Korea’s latest intercontinental ballistic missiles. Some of the images show what seem to be new surveillance and attack drones, not yet publicly announced by the North.

A spokesperson for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the South Korean military was analyzing the military assets shown in the North Korean photos.

Chinese Delegation

Mr. Li, who is also a politburo member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), met with the North Korean leader during an anniversary concert that began at midnight, KCNA said. Mr. Li also handed Mr. Kim a letter from CCP leader Xi Jinping.

During a separate reception hosted by senior North Korean officials, Mr. Li said China was ready to promote a “sound and stable” development of relations with North Korea.

NTD Photo
China’s Vice Chairman of the standing committee of the country’s National People’s Congress, Li Hongzhong, left, and other Chinese officials arrive at the Pyongyang international airport on July 27, 2023. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean regime. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Military Parade

On Thursday, Mr. Kim shared center stage with the Russian and Chinese delegates as he rolled out his most powerful, nuclear-capable missiles in a military parade in Pyongyang, marking a major war anniversary with a show of defiance against the United States.

State media said Friday that Mr. Kim attended the evening parade with Mr. Shoigu and Mr. Li Hongzhong from a balcony looking over a brightly illuminated Kim Il Sung Square, named after Mr. Kim’s state-founding grandfather.

The streets and stands were packed with tens of thousands of mobilized spectators, who roared in approval as waves of goose-stepping soldiers, tanks, and huge, intercontinental ballistic missiles wheeled out on launcher trucks filled up the main road.

Some experts say North Korea hopes to use U.S. confrontations with China and Russia over regional influence, including the war in Ukraine, as an opportunity to break out of its diplomatic isolation and insert itself into a united front against Washington.

Analysts say Mr. Kim sharing the center stage with the delegates at the parade would be a key accomplishment on the domestic front.

NTD Photo
Citizens walk on a street of Pothonggang District of Pyongyang, North Korea, on July 27, 2023, on the 70th anniversary of an armistice that halted fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War. (AP Photo/Cha Song Ho)

For the North Korean leader, the Chinese and Russian attendance would be a significant statement of defiance toward the United States on the global stage.

White House Reaction

White House’s National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, John Kirby, said it was clear that Mr. Putin is reaching out to other countries for support in fighting his war in Ukraine.

“Mr. Putin knows he’s having his own defense procurement problems, his own inventory problems, that his military remains on the back foot, and he’s trying to shore that up,” Mr. Kirby said.

The Biden administration has previously accused North Korea of providing arms to Russia for use in Ukraine, a claim Pyongyang denies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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