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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Kim Jong Un this week praised the rapid progress being made at North Korea’s marquee construction project in Samjiyon county, state media reported on Thursday, urging workers to complete the second phase of the town’s refurbishment “unconditionally.”
In coverage of an on-site inspection by the DPRK leader carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and ruling party organ Rodong Sinmun, Kim was also said to have reiterated that the project must be completed by October 2020.
“The builders have made much progress in the project despite the cold weather this winter in the northern part of the country,” Kim was quoted as having said, adding the “appearance of the township has changed so much in several months.”
“If the construction is vigorously pushed forward at the current speed, the project should be finished by the appointed time as scheduled by the Party,” he added, stating with “full conviction” that the project will be wrapped up by that deadline.
Kim’s visit to the site is his first this year, and follows on-site inspections of the area in July, August, and October 2018.
The North Korean leader was on Wednesday in a Korean-language report said to have ordered that the ongoing second phase of the project be completed “unconditionally,” stressing the importance of “meticulous” planning.
Kim also underlined the “need to accurately set the monthly targets for each process and wage a dynamic struggle for completing the second-stage construction projects as planned without fail,” a concurrent English-language article on his visit said.
To this end, the DPRK leader said, “responsible guidance on construction and supervision” were required.
The Rodong Sinmun last month reported that the second-stage construction of Samjiyon Country was being pushed forward “in a full-fledged manner,” having said in January that “thousands” of students had been dispatched to work on the project.
And while state media has largely emphasized that the site’s primary labor force is drawn from the military, NK News‘s sister site NK Pro previously reported on imagery that revealed that civilians – including women and the elderly – had been put to work digging foundations for new buildings by hand.
The North Korean leader this week reiterated the importance of the project, which DPRK media previously reported is set to be wrapped up in time for the 75th anniversary of the founding of the country’s ruling party on October 10 next year.
“By inspiring builders as well as the entire Party and the whole country, the construction of Samjiyon County should be completed by the 75th founding anniversary of the Party,” the KCNA and the Rodong reported Kim as having said.
Describing the area — which North Korean propaganda cites as the birthplace of late leader Kim Jong Il — as the “yard of the old home for the revolution,” Kim Jong Un promised to make it the “richest county in the country.”
Since the DPRK leader’s order in November 2016 to complete the area’s refurbishment within three to four years, the country has rushed to complete the project.
A visit to the site in October last year saw Kim override plans by the Cabinet and the Samjiyon County Construction Command to have completed the four-phase project by 2021.
The DPRK leader, instead, said the ruling party’s intention was that construction should be completed in three stages within the timeframe of the five-year strategy for national economic development, to be implemented between 2016 and 2020.
Kim urged local authorities to engage in “militant” struggle to complete the overall construction by October 2020 and to “unconditionally carry it out.”
And given the leader’s orders last October that workers “perfectly complete the township construction” by this year, this week’s on-site inspection suggests Kim is investing significant personal time in ensuring the second phase of the plans meet that deadline.
His address this year saw Kim urge the country to “turn out to transform Samjiyon Country into a model of a modern mountainous city and an ideal socialist village,” describing it as one of the “huge construction projects for national prosperity and the people’s wellbeing.”
DPRK state media on Thursday reported that Kim had been briefed on construction progress, including the building of houses and facilities in the township of Samjiyon County, scheduled to be complete over the winter in accordance with the first phase of the plan.
He was also updated on works in the nearby Mubong area — the site of the “Mubong Special Zone for International Tour” first announced in April 2015.
Kim was also reported to have used his visit to the area to tour facilities including the Samjiyon Blueberry Drink Factory, County Junior Middle School, and the Potato Farina Production Factory.
He was accompanied by vice department director of the WPK Central Committee Jo Yong Won, according to the Rodong and KCNA, and used the visit to underline the political and ideological significance of the project.
“The construction of Samjiyon County is a fierce class struggle against hostile forces,” Kim said in a meeting with provincial and county party committees and other local officials at the headquarters of the Samjiyon County construction project.
“Through victory in the construction, we can demonstrate the country’s might and economic potential,” he stressed, saying the project must not be regarded as a “mere construction to remodel the county.”
The DPRK leader previously struck a similar tone during a visit to the site in August last year, in which he said the work was part of “an acute standoff with hostile forces.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Rodong Sinmun