Hundreds of trucks carrying thousands of soldiers lined the Pyongyang River in the pale light of early morning dawn, while North Korea with nuclear weapons was preparing to celebrate his birthday with a great demonstration of military strength.
Sunday is the 70th anniversary of the 1948 founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as it is officially known to the North, three years after Moscow and Washington divided the peninsula among them in the last days of World War II.
These specific dates are a pillar of the political calendar of the North, especially when it comes to round numbers, and have traditionally been occasions to show off their latest hardware.
"Anniversaries are important in the DPRK, and this is particularly the case," said Evans Revere, of the group of experts at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
"These celebrations are also occasions for the leader to demonstrate his achievements and national power, and to take credit for them."
The screens, overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, the third member of his family to govern the country, are crucial for Korean observers, who watch them closely for clues about their latest developments.
First, the companies of soldiers cross the Kim Il Sung square, then the material becomes increasingly intimidating, with tanks passing by and planes flying overhead, until the program ends with intercontinental ballistic missiles.
But the rockets may not be on display this time, analysts say.
An overly militaristic exhibition could risk upsetting the diplomatic uproar in the peninsula, following Kim's meeting in Singapore with US President Donald Trump in June and his third summit with southern president Moon Jae in Pyongyang at the end of this month.
& # 39; Slap on the face & # 39;
"If they exhibit ICBMs, it will be a massive provocation and it will be a slap in the face for the United States," said Andrei Lankov of Korea Risk Group.
He did not expect North Korea to do so, particularly because it would put the visiting Chinese delegation in the difficult position of backing the weapons programs that have seen Pyongyang subject to multiple international sanctions.
Beijing is the key diplomatic partner and protector of its neighbor, and after years of freezing nuclear and missile tests in the North, its ties have heated up rapidly this year, with Kim visiting China three times to meet with the president Xi Jinping
There were speculations that Xi could be the anniversary: Hu Jintao was the last Chinese president to visit in 2005, and then Premier Wen Jiabao did the same in 2009.
But instead, Xi will be represented by Li Zhanshu, the head of the Chinese parliament and a member of the permanent committee of the Communist Party's politburo, the most powerful body in the country.
Xi's decision not to appear, but still send a high-ranking envoy, can be calculated to show support for Pyongyang without antagonizing Trump, since China and the US UU They are involved in a commercial dispute.
At the same time, it could indicate that Beijing wants to see Kim do more to reduce tensions before a presidential visit.
Diplomatic invitations for the anniversary have spread around the world, but the only head of state known to attend is the president of Mauritania, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
And the French actor Gerard Depardieu is also in Pyongyang.
At a concert on Saturday night that kicked off the celebrations, the images on display focused heavily on the economy, with only a few short military segments, none of them showing missiles.
The content of the parade would be key, John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul told AFP.
In April, Kim declared that the development of nuclear weapons in the North had been completed and that the "socialist economic construction" would be the new strategic priority.
"It will be interesting to see if Kim Jong Un tries to change the symbolism, change the message to essentially diminish the militarist message and improve the economic message," Delury said.
"Anyway, that's what I'm looking for."