Construction of a large new residential apartment complex in the North Korean city of Sinuiju has seen rapid progress in recent months, images taken from a popular tourist spot in the Chinese border city of Dandong show.
Homes in the residential towers will be gifted, at least in part, to government employees, two sources told NK News on Wednesday.
The complex of three buildings – with one much larger and more ornate in style than the other two – is being built just outside the customs house and entrance to the Sino–Korean Friendship Bridge, the primary west-coast road and rail connection between the two countries.
Also just beyond the customs house is the Amnok River Tourist Area built under the bridge in recent years, housing restaurants and shops primarily aimed at Chinese day-trippers.
The new construction project also lies directly adjacent to the town’s Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il statues and the Provincial Revolutionary Museum, as well as Sinuiju Youth Train Station.
Dandong has seen a property boom coinciding with this year’s peninsular détente, with many seeing the city as a likely hub for cross-border business should international sanctions be lifted.
Despite this, however, the new residential complex appears to be the only major ongoing construction project in Sinuiju at present.
Rowan Beard, a tour manager for Young Pioneer Tours (YPT), told NK News that despite hearing from partners in North Korea that it was currently the town’s sole major project, its political significance was still evident.
He said that some apartments had already been promised as gifts to government employees in the area, and that the buildings would house shops on the bottom floors.
Lying a stone’s throw from the cross-border bridge and along the road all vehicles must pass on their way into North Korea, the shops could target foreign tourists and business people in addition to serving residents of the buildings.
Another source familiar with development in Sinuiju also alluded to the building’s political significance, saying some homes there are slated to be “gifted to scientists,” though the exact sector in which such recipients work in North Korea is not clear.
The shape of the main building, too, follows the pattern of ornate architecture seen at major projects in North Korea in recent years also promoted as gifts to the country’s scientists, such as Pyongyang’s Ryomyong and Mirae Scientists Streets.
Beard provided an image of the new project, taken from Dandong on November 6, which shows that the main building currently stands at 20-25 floors and still rising, with the two smaller buildings appearing to have already finished the framing stage.
Beard, who frequently travels to the area while leading tours to North Korea, said that from his observations construction had slowed in the early months of the year before it “picked up pace” in June.
High-resolution images taken by tourists visiting the Yalu River Broken Bridge and posted to Chinese social media site Weibo show that the main building has seen around two new floors completed per month since June, though all three still appear with unfinished concrete facades.
Images there also suggest that the site is active at night, with floodlights visible on the top floor in one night shot from early November.
A November 5-dated image also provides evidence of poor workmanship, with the rounded concrete edges appearing disjointed and uneven from floor to floor – an issue commonly seen on other current construction sites reviewed by NK News.
Google Earth satellite imagery suggests the project began between April and June of 2017, when an apartment block and other small structures on the site began to be demolished.
Imagery shows that construction on all three new buildings was well underway, but still in progress, by February, with images on social media showing the two smaller buildings structurally completed and the main building at 10-15 floors by May.
The new project follows other major developments in the city in recent years, such as the Amnok River Tourist Area completed in 2015 and renovation of a football stadium largely completed last year – as detailed in a roundup of Sinuiju construction by Curtis Melvin for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) Tearline project.
North Korean state media has yet to report on the new shopping and residence project, and its target completion date remains unknown.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Rowan Beard