PYONGYANG – North Korea on Saturday marked the birthday of late leader Kim Jong Il with no outward provocation against the United States, in the run-up to a second summit between the two countries later this month.
National flags and placards have been placed along major thoroughfares of Pyongyang in celebration of the father of the current leader, Kim Jong Un, who has recently pledged to revitalize the nation’s economy hit hard by international sanctions.
Ahead of Kim Jong Un’s planned summit with U.S. President Donald Trump on Feb. 27-28 in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, political slogans in public spaces made no mention of the country’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.
To commemorate the anniversary, known as “the Day of the Shining Star” in North Korea, various cultural and sports events, including a flower festival, a figure skating show and an artistic swimming performance, have taken place in Pyongyang.
The Day of the Shining Star is one of the most important holidays in North Korea, along with April 15, called the “Day of the Sun,” which marks the birth of the nation’s founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather.
At an annual exhibition featuring more than 30,000 roots of “Kimjongilia,” a red blossom of the begonia family named after the former leader, there were no replicas of satellite-carrying rockets or missiles, unlike on previous anniversaries.
Missiles and rockets are “not necessary” for the festival to celebrate the birth of the late leader, Kim Ji Sung, a 25-year-old Japanese-speaking guide, told Kyodo News.
In the past, replicas of satellite-carrying rockets, which other countries suspected North Korea had used for ballistic missile technology tests, were on display along with the flowers at the festival, sources familiar with the situation in Pyongyang said.
While such replicas and items promoting nuclear development have been absent, banners and placards emphasizing the significance of economic construction have been installed in many places in the city.
Following an intercontinental ballistic missile test on Nov. 29, 2017, Kim Jong Un declared North Korea had “finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.” The country has since suspended ballistic missile tests.
In April last year, the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, led by Kim Jong Un, made a commitment to concentrate more on building a “powerful socialist economy,” while promising to discontinue nuclear and ICBM tests.
At their historic first summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018, Kim Jong Un and Trump agreed that the United States would provide security guarantees to North Korea in return for “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula.
Negotiations between the two nations, however, have shown little sign of moving forward against a backdrop of the Trump administration’s skepticism about North Korea’s commitment to abandoning its nuclear arsenal.
Pyongyang, meanwhile, has urged Washington to relax international economic sanctions aimed at preventing it from pursuing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, arguing that North Korea has already started to implement concrete steps toward denuclearization.
Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack on Dec. 17, 2011, at age 69. He ruled the country for 17 years after his father Kim Il Sung died on July 8, 1994.