North Korea marks war anniversary, preps for big spectacle

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea marked the anniversary of the end of World War II and its liberation from Japanese colonial rule with a series of ceremonies ahead of what is expected to be a much bigger event next month — the 70th anniversary of its national foundation day.

The celebrations Wednesday were decidedly low-key.

A group of war veterans from the former Soviet Union participated, and thousands of people cheered their soccer team to victory over a South Korean squad in the opening match of an under-15 youth tournament in Pyongyang featuring players from several countries. People also streamed to statues of the country’s leaders or other monuments to observe the anniversary, as is customary.

North Korea’s big party is expected next month. It has been preparing an extravagant celebration complete with parades, foreign VIP delegations and mass gymnastics on its Sept. 9 foundation day.

The September festivities in the North are intended to be spectacular homage to Kim’s campaign to bolster his country’s image abroad and ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula through diplomacy with its neighbors and the United States.

But after a surprisingly successful start, the diplomacy appear to be faltering somewhat, with negotiations on Washington’s demands for the North to abandon its nuclear weapons bogging down after what were seen by many as overly optimistic public statements after Kim’s summit with President Donald Trump in Singapore two months ago.

Pyongyang claims Washington must first make a stronger effort to build confidence and assure its security before denuclearization can occur.

North Korea recently accused the United States of trying to force other countries to strengthen their sanctions enforcement and to block high-level delegations from attending the September events.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is to visit Pyongyang in September for his third summit with leader Kim Jong Un, gave a speech in Seoul to mark the anniversary and said the upcoming summit would mark a “bold step” toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a formal declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War.

Moon also talked about potential joint economic projects between the Koreas, but said that could only happen as an outcome of a complete denuclearization of the peninsula. He mentioned the resumption of joint tours to North Korea’s scenic Diamond Mountain resort, restarting operations at a joint factory park in North Korea’s Kaesong and also potential projects surrounding inter-Korean railways and development of North Korea’s natural resources.

Kim’s diplomacy with Beijing, and with Moscow as well, seems to be progressing more smoothly. Chinese tourism is reportedly already on the rise and there are signs that Chinese businessmen are looking to resume and even broaden their activities in the country as soon as the political climate will allow them to do so.

That’s crucial to Kim, who is hoping to undermine support for the U.S.-backed sanctions so that he can focus on improving North Korea’s economy