SEOUL, July 25 ― North Korea is planning a “grand” Korean War armistice anniversary celebration this week that will be attended by Chinese diplomats, the first known foreign visitors since Pyongyang's 2020 pandemic border closure.

State media said that Pyongyang will mark 70 years since the signing of the armistice, known as Victory Day in the North, in a “grand manner that will go down in history.”

The official Korean Central News Agency reported, and Beijing confirmed, that a Chinese delegation led by Politburo member Li Hongzhong would travel to the North for the event ― the first known visit by a foreign delegation since the start of the pandemic.

North Korea has been under a rigid self-imposed coronavirus blockade since early 2020 to protect itself from Covid-19, which has prevented even its own nationals from entering the country.

It only resumed some trade with China last year, and allowed Beijing's new envoy to take up his position earlier this year.

Beijing said the delegation would travel to Pyongyang on Wednesday, suggesting they would not be required to undergo an extensive quarantine ahead of the Thursday anniversary event.

An armistice agreement ending Korean War hostilities was signed on July 27, 1953 but the two Koreas remain technically at war because the agreement was never replaced by a peace treaty.

North Korea is expected to hold a large-scale military parade and other events this week to mark the anniversary, with satellite images indicating that soldiers and civilians have been training for the parade for months, Seoul-based specialist site NK News reported.

Leader Kim Jong-un's biggest nuclear-capable missiles and other military capabilities are likely to roll through Kim Il Sung Square during the event, it added.

“It is expected that North Korea will try to reap the benefit of Beijing condoning its nuclear development by unveiling a new ICBM when a Chinese high-level delegation attends its large-scale military parade,” Yang Moo-jin, president of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told AFP.

“It seems that the intention is to show off the strengthening of solidarity between North Korea and China amidst the global political disruption caused by the ongoing US-China conflict.”

He added that it could also be a sign that the border between the North and China might be reopened in the not too distant future.

More missiles

North Korea fired two ballistic missiles late yesterday, Seoul said, the latest in a series of weapons tests in recent weeks by Pyongyang, which come as Seoul and Washington ramp up defence cooperation.

Last week South Korea hosted a visit by a US nuclear-capable submarine, the first such deployment since 1981.

And in a move that likely further provoked the North, a second US submarine, the nuclear-powered USS Annapolis, arrived at a South Korean naval base yesterday.

Relations between the two Koreas are currently at one of their lowest historical points, as diplomacy between Pyongyang and Seoul has stalled and Kim has called for ramping up weapons development, including tactical nukes.

In efforts to bolster deterrence, Seoul and Washington have staged joint military exercises with advanced stealth jets and US strategic assets.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula also have ratcheted up recently due to the disappearance of a US soldier, Travis King, who was on a tour of the demilitarised zone last week when he ran across the border into North Korea.

The UN Command, a US-led multinational force that oversees the Korean War truce, said yesterday it has begun discussions with Pyongyang over the missing American serviceman. ― AFP