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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
North Korea held an opening ceremony on Saturday for one of the country’s top priority construction projects in the Yangdok Hot Spring Cultural Recreation Center, state media announced Sunday.
With leader Kim Jong Un in attendance, the resort’s construction was hailed as a victory over difficulties brought by the country’s “enemies” and a significant achievement in speedy construction completed in “less than a year.”
Demolition of a greenhouse complex and catfish farm on site began in the fall of 2018 and resort construction began this past spring, and while its completion was originally slated for October, it was later pushed back to December.
Its opening this weekend despite Kim’s apparent warning last month to finish on time appears, in part, to attract foreign tourists in the winter season.
“The hot spring resort is a combined hot spring therapy facility and multi-functional sports and cultural complex conducive to promotion of the people’s health and their leisure activities,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
It is a “city-like resort” that comprises indoor and outdoor baths, “modern service facilities, single- and multi-storied dwelling houses, a skiing ground, a horse-riding park, etc. perfect in terms of formative art, reciprocity, connectivity and practicality are organized nature-and environment-friendly,” another report added.
Kim Jong Un was also praised in a speech given at the ceremony by first vice-chairman of the State Affairs Commission (SAC) Choe Ryong Hae for having scouted the country’s hot springs, chosen the location for the Yangdok resort, and having guided its construction through six site inspections between August 2018 and November 2019.
Choe emphasized that the project is a show of the country’s Juche or “self-reliant” spirit, hinting that its completion is a success in the face of international economic sanctions on North Korea.
“The successful completion of the resort is a clear manifestation of the might of the single-minded unity of Juche Korea breaking through any harsh challenges by dint of the strong unity of the leader and the people,” he said.
North Korea with its completion “once again declared to the world that steady development and prosperity can be achieved even in the worst adversity,” he added.
In a Korean-language transcript of his speech carried in the Sunday edition of the ruling party daily Rodong Sinmun, Choe said that the construction was “a decisive match fought without guns” and “a sharp class struggle with the enemies who adamantly attempt to halt our advance.”
The resort, Choe said, “wasn’t built out of some particularly good environmental conditions or freely available finances” either, but rather was a success of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) soldier-builders carrying out the orders of Kim Jong Un and the Party.
Kim Jong Un toured the facilities after the ceremony Saturday, KCNA reported, where he looked at the ski equipment on site, rode a ski lift to the top of the hill, and visited the “horse-riding park and a vaulting-horse ground.”
The Rodong on Sunday reported that an event led by another top government official Pak Pong Ju was held the previous day to convey a gift of various ski equipment to the Yangdok resort by Kim Jong Un.
In addition to celebrating the official opening of the resort itself, soldier-builders and youth shock brigade members were also praised in state media for building a new rail line, roads, and streams in the surrounding area.
An 8 km-long rail line from Soktang Hot Springs Station to the west was built with new bridges and tunnels, while new apartments and other public buildings were built around the station, according to state media and satellite imagery analyzed by NK News. The new Onjong Station was also built at the resort site.
The most recent medium-resolution satellite imagery taken on December 5, provided by Planet Labs, revealed that temporary shelters for workers were still standing around the station and elsewhere near the resort’s main grounds — structures which likely would need to be removed before tourists begin to arrive.
Satellite imagery also revealed that preparations for the opening began in the middle of last month, with work to use artificial snow blowers to cover Yangdok’s ski slopes beginning between November 18-19, and appearing to be almost finished by December 5.
North Korean state television on Sunday aired a long segment anchored by the country’s premier news presenter Ri Chun Hee both on Kim Jong Un’s visit and the opening ceremony, but also to present a detailed look at the resort’s various facilities.
Video of his site visits previously would typically only come out in documentaries aired later, but the 30-minute program follows an emerging trend on Korean Central Television (KCTV) in the last week where project opening ceremonies are aired in video instead of still photos.
The broadcast began with orchestral music and sound effects of bubbling water, presenting aerial drone shots of the hotels, ski grounds, indoor and outdoor spas, and equestrian grounds.
It then showed interior finishings of lobbies and hotel rooms, amenities such as vending machines in covered walkways, drink stands at the indoor pools, and the new ski equipment.
Kim showed up to the ceremony in his new Lexus SUV, viewed Choe’s speech, and toured the site. He was shown conversing with people in hot tubs, riding a ski lift alone, and posing with children dressed in equestrian gear at the horse-riding park.
The program ended with fireworks over the ski slopes and soldiers and civilians in colorful ski clothing cheering.
Unlike some major construction site openings in the past, such as the skyscraper-filled Ryomyong Street in Pyongyang, western media were not invited to attend the Yangdok resort opening or other major openings in the last week such as another expected tourist attraction in Samjiyon Township.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Rodong Sinmun