North Korea Unveils Massive Ballistic Missile Ice Sculpture to Celebrate the New Year

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Fireworks are seen above the Taedong River during New Year’s celebrations as visitors pose for a photo in front of an ice sculpture of an intercontinental ballistic missile at the Pyongyang Ice Sculpture Festival in Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on January 1. Kyodo/via Reuters

A frozen replica of North Korea's most powerful rocket, the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-15, featured prominently among the ice sculptures displayed at an annual festival hosted in the country's Pyongyang as part of New Year's Eve celebrations.

The festival takes place every year at the end of December in the square named after the country's founder and Kim Jong Un's grandfather, Kim Il Sung, in central Pyongyang, on the banks of the Taedong River.

Entry to the festival was marked by an illuminated arch with "2018" emblazoned on it, as the frozen sculptures offered the backdrop to a fireworks show that lit the sky above the Juche tower. While in English-speaking parts of the world the New Year's ballad of choice is "Auld Lang Syne," Pyongyang's air was filled with the song "Our Leader Loved by People" as the clock struck midnight, state-controlled Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

Fireworks lit the sky over the Juche tower and the ice sculptures, in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kyodo/via Reuters

The ice sculptures are usually commissioned by the country's various ministries and committees, as well as the Mansudae Art Studio, which is responsible for the production of North Korea's propaganda material and claims to be one of the world's largest centers of art production, employing around 1,000 people.

The festival, which is supposed to showcase the regime's traditional symbols and the year's accomplishments, referenced North Korea's advancing missile development program using more than one sculpture—besides the single Hwasong-15, another featured replicas of the country's main ballistic missiles. Other sculptures focused on the country's industrial production, with one replicating the cosmetics produced in a factory Kim visited in October with his wife, Ri Sol Ju.

The state of the country's economy was a major topic Kim addressed in his New Year's speech, along with the buildup of nuclear weapons. These two issues, Kim believes, go hand in hand.

Kim appeared to acknowledge that the country's nuclear and missile program has come at a cost for ordinary North Koreans. "We have created a mighty sword for defending peace, as desired by all our people who had to tighten their belts for long years," he said, according to an English translation of the New Year's speech published in the state-controlled North Korean media.

It was a marked difference to his first major public speech, in 2012, in which he promised his people would "never have to tighten their belt again."

The North Korean leader blamed the sacrifice on the sanctions imposed by the international community in response to the country's continuing nuclear and missile tests.

Kim's speech offered a warning to the U.S., saying "the whole of its mainland is within the range of our nuclear strike and the nuclear button is on my office desk all the time," and an offer of talks with South Korea. According to some experts, the move is meant to drive a wedge between the two allies.

"A major part of the Kim family playbook is to exploit and to widen the divergences in the interests, in the first instance between the U.S. and South Korea, but more broadly among the five major neighbors," Daniel Russel, former U.S. diplomat for East Asia currently senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute, told Reuters.