SEOUL, South Korea — Columns of goose-stepping soldiers and artillery vehicles rolled through a main plaza in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, on Sunday, as the country celebrated the 70th anniversary of its founding with a large military parade notable for one conspicuous absence: its long-range ballistic missiles.
The North’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, including its Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, have been a main feature of its recent military parades, including one in February, and they have provoked President Trump to the extent that he has threatened military action. Their absence in Sunday’s parade is an encouraging signal for Washington, which has been urging the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, to ease tensions and focus on diplomacy aimed at ending his country’s nuclear weapons program.
For weeks, outside analysts had been scrutinizing satellite imagery of North Korea’s preparations for Sunday’s festivities. If the North decided not to showcase its ICBMs, they said, it could be counted as a sign that North Korea was serious about its negotiations with Washington.
During the two-hour parade, North Korea displayed conventional weaponry, such as tanks, artillery pieces and multiple-rocket launchers, but it neither rolled out its ICBMs nor made direct references to its growing nuclear weapons capabilities, as it often did in past parades.
The missiles on display were fewer in number and short in range. Nearly half the parade was composed of civilian groups, like nurses and construction workers, marching with colorful floats that swore loyalty to Mr. Kim and to his new policy aim of economic growth. Largely gone were explicit anti-American slogans (though some tanks still bore old ones that called for the “extermination of American imperialist invaders”). Replacing them were exhortations for building “a strong socialist economy.”
“By keeping ICBMs out, Kim Jong-un showed that he did not want to antagonize President Trump,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, South Korea. “The composition of the parade appears to reflect Kim Jong-un’s focus on dialogue and economic development.”
From the balcony overlooking the plaza, Mr. Kim watched the event with a notable foreign guest: Li Zhanshu, the No. 3 official of the Communist Party of China, who attended as the special envoy of China’s president, Xi Jinping. Mr. Kim and Mr. Li displayed their countries’ traditional friendship by raising their locked hands toward cheering crowds mobilized to watch the parade.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly urged China to help rein in its Communist neighbor’s nuclear weapons program. If North Korea had paraded its ICBMs this time, it could have created a major embarrassment for Beijing and fueled Mr. Trump’s charge that China is not doing enough to apply pressure.
The North’s ICBMs have been a leading source of tension with Washington, as Mr. Kim has accelerated their development and testing.
In November, North Korea successfully test-launched its Hwasong-15 ICBM, which is largely considered powerful enough to reach most of the continental United States. Mr. Kim later said he would shift focus to the economy, having achieved a nuclear deterrent.
When he met with Mr. Trump in June in Singapore, Mr. Kim committed to working toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in exchange for new relations and security guarantees from the United States. He told visiting South Korean envoys last week that he wanted to denuclearize before Mr. Trump’s current term ends in early 2021. He reiterated, though, that his country would move toward that goal only in phases to secure “simultaneous” reciprocal measures from Washington, such as the easing of sanctions that have been hurting his economy.
As Mr. Kim’s stated focus has shifted in recent months from missile development to economic development, the once ubiquitous anti-American and anti-Trump slogans and editorials have receded from Pyongyang’s streets and newspapers. Mr. Kim has also devoted almost all of his public activities to visiting factories and construction sites.
The parade on Sunday reflected the new stance.
Mr. Kim did not speak on Sunday, as he did in some of the past parades. Speaking in his stead, Kim Yong-nam, the head of the North Korean Parliament, emphasized the government’s economic goals.
Mass rallies and parades like the one on Sunday are a main way the government broadcasts its ideological and policy priorities. This month, after a five-year hiatus, North Korea is reintroducing the Mass Games — also with a strong economic theme. The games are a highly choreographed, propaganda-heavy spectacle featuring 100,000 performers, many of them children, dancing and performing synchronized gymnastics.
“It’s incredible how North Korea stays ‘on brand’ — last year’s parade was all about nukes and this year it’s all about the economy,” Will Ripley, a CNN reporter, tweeted from Pyongyang.
Mr. Ripley said that two North Koreans who participated in the parade had both told him that their country did not need to display ICBMs in the parade because it had achieved its nuclear goals.
But “when I asked one man if he thinks North Korea should denuclearize, he quickly replied, ‘Never!’ ” Mr. Ripley posted on Twitter.