North Korea has staged a huge military parade that focussed on peace and development to mark its 70th anniversary as a nation but refrained from displaying its most advanced missiles.
A sea of spectators watched the parade on Sunday as tens of thousands goose-stepping soldiers and columns of tanks drove past a rostrum where leader Kim Jong-un took the salute.
Li Zhanshu, one of the seven members of the Chinese Communist party’s Politburo Standing Committee, the country’s most powerful body, sat next to Kim in Pyongyang’s Kim II-sung Square.
The parade featured armoured personnel carriers, multiple rocket launchers and tanks, and biplanes that flew overhead in a “70” formation.
At one point, jets trailing red, white and blue smoke – the colours of the North Korean flag – roared above Juche Tower, the stone monument to the country’s founder Kim Il Sung’s political philosophy.
Finally came the missiles, the traditional climax of the parades. But the only ones on show were the blue Kumsong-3, an anti-ship cruise missile, and the Pongae-5 surface-to-air weapon.
There was no sign of the Hwasong-14 and -15 missiles that can reach the mainland United States and changed the strategic balance when they were first tested last year.
And there were no nuclear tests to mark the day, as has happened in each of the last two years.
North Korea routinely uses major holidays to showcase its military capabilities and the latest developments in missile technology.
Se-Woong Koo, managing editor of Korea Expose magazine, said Pyongyang was sending a message about its commitment to denuclearisation made during summits with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“North Korea has said it wants to denuclearise by the end of Trump’s first term. So given all this optimism, given all the clear signs, it was unlikely that North Korea would jeopardise the process with a display of its missiles,” he told Al Jazeera.
The North also refrained from immediately televising the event, though North Korean media were out in force to film it, deploying booms and drones with cameras.
The theme for the celebrations this year was unifying the Korean Peninsula, divided since the 1950-53 Korean War.
Immediately after the parade, thousands of citizens walked through the square, escorting floats displaying economic themes and calls for Korean reunification.
Under the warm sunshine, the marchers waved bouquets and flags and chanted “Long live” to the leader.
Afterwards, Kim and Li saluted the crowd, the North Korean raising his guest’s hand in the air.
Beijing is its neighbour’s key diplomatic protector and trade partner, and after years of deep freeze over North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, their ties have warmed rapidly this year, with Kim visiting China three times to meet Xi.
Speculation that Xi might reciprocate for the anniversary did not come to pass, a move analysts say could indicate Beijing still has reservations about Kim’s initiatives.
This year’s celebrations also mark the revival of North Korea’s iconic mass games after a five-year hiatus.
The Arirang Mass Games is a huge, nationalist pageant performed by up to 100,000 people in one of the world’s largest stadiums.
Soon after the Sunday celebrations end, Kim will once again meet Moon in Pyongyang to discuss “practical measures” towards denuclearisation, according to officials in Seoul.