SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un praised the “limitless strength” of his nuclear-armed military as he visited troops with his daughter to mark the 75th founding anniversary of his army, state media said Wednesday.
The visit came amid indications North Korea is preparing to stage a massive military parade in capital Pyongyang where it could showcase the latest hardware of a growing nuclear weapons program that stokes the concern of its neighbors and the United States.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim visited an unspecified barracks with his daughter, Kim Ju Ae, and later Tuesday gave an encouraging speech to troops at a banquet, praising them for maintaining the “world’s strongest military” despite external difficulties.
The visit came a day after Kim presided over a meeting with his top military brass and called for an expansion of combat exercises aimed at sharpening war readiness, as he looks to escalate an already provocative run in weapons demonstrations in the face of deepening tensions with his neighbors and Washington.
North Korea has not confirmed plans for a military parade, which could possibly take place later Wednesday.
Commercial satellite images have shown weeks of apparent preparations involving huge numbers of troops and civilians for an event typically intended to glorify Kim’s rule and his relentless push to cement the North’s status as a nuclear power.
North Korea is also facing deepening economic isolation and food shortages, showing the costs of Kim’s nuclear ambitions are piling up.
North Korea is coming off a record-breaking year in weapons testing, and the dozens of missiles it fired in 2022 included potentially nuclear-capable systems designed to strike targets in South Korea and the US mainland.
The intensified testing activity was punctuated by fiery statements threatening preemptive nuclear attacks against its neighbors and the United States in a broad range of scenarios where it may perceive its leadership as under threat.
Animosity could rise in coming months with Kim doubling down on his nuclear push entering 2023.
During a major political conference in December, Kim called for an “exponential increase” of the country’s nuclear warheads, mass production of battlefield tactical nukes targeting “enemy” South Korea and the development of more powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the continental United States .
Aside from developmental tests, North Korea could also dial up its military demonstrations in response to the United States’ expanding combined military exercises with South Korea, which the allies say are aimed at countering the North’s evolving threat.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry last week warned that the country is prepared to counter US military moves with the “most overwhelming nuclear force” as it condemned US plans to expand its joint exercise with South Korea and deploy more advanced military assets like bombers and aircraft carriers to the region.