After years of pandemic isolation, North Korea has invited its friends back this week, hosting senior Chinese and Russian delegations for 70th anniversary commemorations of the Korean War and the struggle against the United States and its allies.
The visiting dignitaries, which include Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Li Hongzhong, are expected to be presented with one of North Korea’s signature events: a massive military parade showcasing its latest weaponry.
Analysts say the spectacle will likely include the North’s nuclear-tipped missiles banned by the United Nations Security Council, where Russia and China are permanent members.
The visits are the first known foreign delegations to visit North Korea since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and come as Pyongyang has looked to deepen its ties with Beijing and Moscow, finding common ground in their rivalries with Washington and the West.
Thursday’s holiday, in which North Korea celebrates what it sees as a victory over U.S.-led allied forces in the 1950-1953 Korean War, provides a chance for Pyongyang to highlight the Cold War days when North Korean troops fought with Chinese and Russian support.
North Korea is still technically at war with the U.S.-led alliance after fighting ended in an armistice, rather than a formal peace treaty.
“North Korea inviting delegations from both countries seems to be a case of history rhyming, whereby Pyongyang is gearing up to stand up against the West, but perceives the need to maintain relatively balanced ties with both China and Russia,” said Anthony Rinna, a specialist in Korea-Russia relations at Sino-NK, a website that analyses the region.
Only time will tell if the visits signal a broader easing in North Korea’s bans on international travel, which could in theory provide an opening for U.S. officials to negotiate the release of U.S. soldier Travis King, who crossed into North Korea last week, Rinna said.
However, it seems unlikely that Pyongyang will seek to engage with Washington any time soon, and may consider itself to be in a full-scale New Cold War with the United States, he added.