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North Korea in show of force after lambasting US

Seoul

NORTH Korea appeared to stage a military parade as part of a grand party congress that laid out the scale of the challenge US President-elect Joe Biden faces to rein in Kim Jong Un's nuclear programme.

There were signs that North Korea held a parade late Sunday evening, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Monday, in what would be the second such event in since October. US and South Korean intelligence officials were tracking the movements in Pyongyang, the joint chiefs said, which could provide more insight into recent military advances by the regime.

The event came amid a Workers' Party Congress, in which Mr Kim renewed his sabre-rattling toward the US and outlined plans for a broad upgrade of his nuclear forces to improve his capacity to strike across the Pacific. In a chilling warning to the incoming Biden administration, North Korea declared the US its "biggest main enemy" and predicted that Washington's "hostile policy" toward Pyongyang would remain no matter who comes to power.

The congress - only the third such event in the past four decades - signalled a contentious approach toward the new administration after three largely fruitless meetings with US President Donald Trump. North Korea has a history of testing new US presidents with provocations as a way to pressure them to return to the negotiating table.

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The event also ushered in political changes that would likely be analysed for months, with the congress' main report running some 13,500 words in English.

Mr Kim received the new title of "general secretary" of the ruling party - a moniker previously reserved for his late father. Meanwhile, his prominent sister, Kim Yo Jong, was left off a list of alternate members of the Politburo without explanation. But she was given a seat of honour just behind the leader, undercutting speculation that she had fallen from favour.

North Korea's weapons plans include making smaller and lighter nuclear weapons, proceeding with the development of large warheads and improving the ability to strike targets within 15,000 kilometers - or all of the continental US. Mr Kim is seeking to develop solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and nuclear-powered submarines while strengthening intelligence-gathering capabilities with satellites, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

"It lights a fire under the Biden administration," said Ankit Panda, a Stanton Senior Fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"Kim is making clear that if Biden decides not to prioritise North Korea policy, Pyongyang will resume testing and qualitatively advancing its nuclear capabilities in ways that would be seriously detrimental for Washington and Seoul."

North Korea launched a long-range rocket and a detonated a nuclear device after Barack Obama took power in 2009. Mr Trump was welcomed with a series of ballistic missile tests that culminated with the November 2017 launch of an ICBM that experts said could deliver a nuclear warhead to the entire US.

While Mr Kim did leave the door open for further talks with the US, he reaffirmed his longstanding demand that Washington drop its "hostile policy", a collection of grievances that include the presence of American troops on the peninsula. He put a similar condition on restoring ties with South Korea, a request that appeared intended to put strain on the alliance between Seoul and Washington.

North Korea's sanctions-battered economy was dealt further blows last year by natural disasters and Mr Kim's decision to shut borders due to the coronavirus. BLOOMBERG

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