Development construction in Rason is continuing to change the local landscape, with satellite imagery showing a range of recent developments including the building of a new health complex, casino, shuttle bus route, and Kim Jong Il / Kim Il Sung statue area.
Together, the developments show that North Korea is emphasizing modernization in areas well beyond the capital city of Pyongyang.
In November 2010 a video produced by the North Koreans showing the concept plan for the development of the Rason Special Economic Zone was released in the west. You can see the video here.
At the time it was released, the video seemed an impossible dream, and although much work remains before the plan is realized, the North Koreans seem to be moving forward with various components of the plan.
The first noticeable changes took place along the main North-South corridor in the downtown area of Rajin.
On the southern end of the new corridor, the Rason Youth Park has been renovated (since June 2011) and renamed the Rason Haean Park.
Also featured in the North Korean video is a new highway just north of the Rason Haean Park. This is now visible on satellite imagery. The recently constructed Wonjong-Rason highway (which begins at the Chinese border) has been extended through the city and heads south towards Chongjin.
Using publicly available satellite imagery it is unclear how far out of Rason that the road improvement project extends. Additionally, the North Koreans have said nothing about the construction in their official media.
The goal, however, appears to be lowering transport costs and increasing economic integration between China and North Hamgyong Province more generally–not just the Rason area.
Also featured in the North Korean video is a new building across the street from the Rajin Noodle Restaurant. This building has been constructed and visitors to the city report that it is a new “health complex” (also called a “comprehensive service center”).
It is a place where North Koreans can exercise, get a haircut, have a meal, and take a warm bath all under one roof. These facilities are fairly common throughout the DPRK, though rarely as new as this one.
At the northern end of the street groundwork is being laid for new Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il statues.
It also appears that a new shuttle-bus service will be on offer between Rajin and Sonbong. New identical stations have been constructed on both ends of the route with parking lots that indicate a circular route.
The distance between the two stops is approximately 12km (7.5 miles) over a mountain pass.
The two bus station buildings (one pictured above) are identical in both Rajin and Sonbong. Again, neither visitors nor the official media have mentioned this new service, so details about management, service, and prices remain unknown.
Additionally, Rajin’s oldest joint venture bank, the Golden Triangle Bank, has relocated to a new building along Rajin’s main thoroughfare.
Last but not least, Rajin has gained a new casino:
For decades, gamblers in North Korea have only been afforded the opportunity to enjoy themselves at two venues, the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang and the Emperor Casino in Rason. Now there is a third option in downtown Rajin next to the Rajin International Hotel.
Little is known about this casino (or even its name), but information will soon begin trickling out as knowledge of the facility grows with the number of visitors.
Development construction in Rason is continuing to change the local landscape, with satellite imagery showing a range of recent developments including the building of a new health complex, casino, shuttle bus route, and Kim Jong Il / Kim Il Sung statue area.Together, the developments show that North Korea is emphasizing modernization in areas well beyond the capital city of Pyongyang.In