Kim Jong Un’s visit to a Chinese traditional medicine factory in Beijing on Wednesday is a sign of the North Korean leader’s interest in the domestic health sector, the manager of the prominent Pyongyang Pharmaceutical Factory said in an article in Friday’s edition of ruling party organ Rodong Sinmun.
The visit, Kim’s only public factory tour of this week’s trip to China, sparked speculation that health product manufacturing – one of the few remaining non-sanctioned sectors – may become an even bigger domestic priority, and followed mention of the industry in this year’s New Year’s Address.
It also comes after Kim Jong Un’s on-site inspection of the DPRK Ministry of Public Health-linked Pyongyang Pharmaceutical Factory one year ago, the subsequent demolition and reconstruction of buildings on the factory grounds, and repeated focus in state media last year on upgrading that factory and other health product manufacturers.
In Friday’s Rodong article titled “Producing more quality medicine products,” the Pyongyang factory manager Ju Jong Ho called attention to Kim Jong Un’s statements on the domestic medical sector before praising the leader’s trip to the Beijing Tong Ren Tang factory.
Ju said news of Kim Jong Un’s trip abroad “fueled the fire of the hearts of us factory workers.”
Referring to the Tong Ren Tang factory by name, Ju said Kim’s visit was a reflection of his promises “to improve the health of the people,” and caused him to “choke back tears of passion.”
The quote Ju raised was made by Kim last spring, when he said “pharmaceutical and medical appliance factories should be modernized.”
“They should produce efficacious medicines, advanced medical facilities and appliances, and medical supplies to satisfy demand,” Kim added in a report to the 7th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) on the work of the Central Committee.
In his 2019 New Year’s Address, Kim also said the country “should ensure that all the people realize the advantages of the socialist public health system by modernizing pharmaceutical and medical appliance factories, upgrading medical institutions and raising the level of medical service.”
Following Kim Jong Un’s inspection of the Pyongyang Pharmaceutical Factory in January 2018, Premier Pak Pong Ju returned for multiple inspections throughout the year, and the factory received attention for ongoing remodeling of its facilities.
During his January 24 inspection, Kim reportedly said “sustained big efforts should be directed to grasping the global trend of pharmaceutical industrial development.”
The factory should also “introduce the advanced technology in order to study and develop new highly efficacious medicines of good quality and widely use them in the treatment and prevention of diseases,” the leader reportedly added in a report on the visit.
Following the inspection, two large buildings in the middle of the factory premises – located in the industrial Songyo District east of the Taedong River – began to be torn down in March, and were completely removed by May, according to a review of satellite imagery.
As of January 8, progress appears to have been made on new buildings going up in their place.
An article published in state outlet DPRK Today in December detailing various “major construction and reconstruction projects” in Pyongyang said “a big progress was made in the… remodeling of the Pyongyang Pharmaceutical Factory and the Pyongyang Electronic Medical Appliances Factory.”
Satellite imagery showed the Pyongyang Electronic Medical Appliances Factory, too, saw major demolition and reconstruction throughout 2018.
Located in the city’s northwest Mangyongdae District, the main building was also demolished in March, with work on the new building mostly carried out since October.
The Pyongyang Pharmaceutical Factory became well-known for entering into the PyongSu Joint Venture Company with the Swiss Interpacific Holding in 2004.
With Northern Development Pharmaceutical Consortium Ltd (NDPC) now the majority owner, PyongSu has been trying to overcome international sanctions barring joint ventures with North Korean entities.
According to PyongSu’s official site, in January 2018 their partners in Pyongyang “temporarily agree(d) to hold onto NDCP’s shares until an exemption to Resolution 2375 (is) obtained or sanctions lifted.”
“Considering the trust that’s been established over the past 16 years, I believe this move, though potentially risky, was the right one to make,” NDCP Managing Director Remy Lardinois told NK News at the time.
Following the revelation this week that the U.S. is looking to facilitate more humanitarian exemptions to UN sanctions, however, chances for the resumption of the partnership may be improving.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA
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