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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Construction on the politically-symbolic Samjiyon project will be completed “ahead of schedule” in October 2020, North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported Tuesday.
Coverage of a recent visit by Kim Jong Un to the now snow-covered town – his first public appearance in 19 days – said that while plans originally called for four stages of construction to be completed by 2021, the leader instead decided to cut the stages to three and move the date ahead by a year.
The new deadline, the first time the North has named a target completion date for the project, will see the marquee project completed in time for the 75th anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s (WPK) foundation.
Kim called for “unconditional completion” by this new date in accordance with his “hopes to complete [the project] within the period of the five-year strategy for national economic development.”
He also ordered that the second stage of work, set to begin next year, should be carried out “completely flawlessly,” demanding the construction crews and relevant organizations carefully lay plans and “prepare and meticulously procure all the necessary” funds, equipment, labor, and materials for the project.
The “township construction” should also be completed next year, Kim reportedly added.
Tuesday’s report also saw Kim positively remark on the work done this year, saying that while construction of residential homes and public buildings “appeared in the framework stage when I visited in August,” they “mostly appear in the final stages now just a little over two months later.”
But despite his praise of some of the work done so far, Kim also “heard a report about issues arising in the course of construction” during his visit, and warned that hasty work can lead to mistakes.
According to the report, Kim said workers should “never merely be obsessed by impatience to unconditionally finish something by a certain time.”
He also said that “if the construction is done to be gorgeous in appearance but poor in substance, [the workers] will be blamed by the people and future generations.”
In order to prevent this, he reportedly urged workers to “think of [the buildings] as if they are your own home.”
The quality of construction, he added, must be the first priority, as the buildings are considered to be “monuments to the creation of the party that shall last for ten thousand years.”
During Kim’s August visit, he linked the project to the country’s anti-sanctions stance, saying “the hostile forces’ persistent sanctions and obstructive moves come as a serious setback to the advance of our socialism.”
But despite increasing condemnations from North Korea over international sanctions of late, today’s report did not include similar remarks over any difficulties incurred on the project as a result of such measures.
Images obtained by NK Pro earlier in the year revealed that in addition to the soldier-builders appearing in state media footage, civilians including women and the elderly appear to have been involved in tough manual labor for long hours without adequate tools or machinery at the site.
“Civilians made up the majority of the labor force,” a source told NK Pro at the time, estimating that they represented around 70 percent of those working at the site and that some were digging foundations for new buildings by hand.
NK Pro analysis of satellite imagery in earlier October found that construction in Samjiyon was proceeding rapidly ahead of a potential pause in winter, where frozen ground and snow cover is expected to continue months on end.
But while Samjiyon already appeared covered in snow in the pictures of Kim’s latest visit released Tuesday, the report did not provide details of expectations for work over winter.
According to state lore, Samjiyon, the “spiritual hometown of the people” as Tuesday’s article says, is where founding leader Kim Il Sung conducted “revolutionary anti-Japanese activities” and where Kim Jong Il was born.
Historical evidence, however, places his birth in the far east of Russia near Khabarovsk.
The symbolic status of Samjiyon has also received a boost this year in the form of the Samjiyon Orchestra, which visited South Korea during the Pyeongchang Olympics.
State media also announced the opening in Pyongyang of the Samjiyon Orchestra Theater – a remodeled Moranbong Circus Theater – earlier this month in Kim’s previous and most recent on-site inspection.
The theater was recently added to the country’s English-language National Tourism Administration website and reported to have “opened to the public,” suggesting it may be used to attract foreign tourist dollars.
The town of Samjiyon, situated close to the Chinese border, may also become a larger tourist destination, with the July KCNA report detailing the inclusion of tourist facilities in the plan.
Tuesday’s report did not include any information regarding these tourism plans.
Kim Jong Un also visited the Samjiyon Potato Farina Production Factory and the construction site of the Samjiyon Blueberry Drink Factory during the most recent visit, according to the report.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA