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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
The large-scale demolition and reconstruction of the North Korean mountain town of Samjiyon has been completed, the country’s state media declared Tuesday, with leader Kim Jong Un on hand to cut the ribbon in an opening ceremony the previous day.
The rebuilding of Samjiyon Township was considered under the now-completed second stage, with the third and final stage, which kicked off with Monday’s ceremony, encompassing more construction in surrounding areas.
The target completion date for the entirety of the Samjiyon County construction project was repeated in a speech given at the ceremony by first vice-chairman of the State Affairs Commission (SAC) Choe Ryong Hae as the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) 75th foundation day anniversary on October 10, 2020.
Almost three full pages of Tuesday’s party daily Rodong Sinmun were dedicated to the opening festivities, including the ceremony where Choe gave his speech — chaired by Kim Jong Un in front of the statue of his father Kim Jong Il.
The date of the ceremony was apparently chosen as it marks the 2nd anniversary of Kim’s December 3, 2017 visit to Samjiyon (published in state media on December 9 that year) where he “pointed out the fundamental flaws” and righted the course of construction, according to Choe.
English-language articles published in state outlet Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) described Samjiyon as the “sacred place of the revolution” and “the utopia town under socialism.”
It was called an “example of a mountainous modern town” and “an epitome of modern civilization.”
Samjiyon was also created, according to KCNA and previous reports of “guidance” visits by Kim Jong Un and other top officials, as a “model of successfully realizing the Party’s idea of local construction” — indicating intentions to carry out modernization and reconstruction in other small towns, possibly on a larger scale than is already underway nationwide.
Much of the apparent focus of the Tuesday reports was to paint a picture of heavy involvement in the construction process by Kim Jong Un.
One report said he “[led] the construction as the designer, key builder and key operator of the project,” and that his guidance visits were conducted “despite rainy muddy road, mid-summer heat and mid-winter blizzards.”
It repeated the state’s official lore that Kim undertook the project “as one of due obligations and revolutionary duties of soldiers and disciples of Chairman Kim Jong Il to better his native county as befits the sacred place of the revolution.”
Another report elaborated that Samjiyon Township is “the glorious land housing Paektusan Secret Camp where Chairman Kim Jong Il’s birthplace is located” — though evidence suggests he was actually born in the far east of Russia near Khabarovsk.
And while Tuesday’s reporting on the Samjiyon Township opening framed it as an accomplishment made “despite the worst trials” and that it was completed “rising from ordeals and difficulties in 2019,” there were no explicit mentions in Korean or English-language reports to the U.S. or sanctions as there have been in the past.
During his most recent guidance visit in October, Kim Jong Un primarily framed work at Samjiyon as part of a struggle against the U.S., saying “the pain the U.S.-led anti-DPRK hostile forces inflicted upon the Korean people is no longer pain, but it turned into their anger” used to propel construction efforts.
THE STATE OF CONSTRUCTION
In a visit to Samjiyon just over a year ago, Kim Jong Un was reported to have stepped in to assert his plans for a three-stage process to be completed by October 2020, instead of local officials’ plans for a four-stage process aiming to finish by 2021.
It is unclear what elements of construction comprise the third stage now underway, though a late November KCNA report said “the installation of temporary buildings for production and living is in progress at surrounding areas and farms as part of [its] preparations.”
In the Samjiyon Township, elements now completed include at least 12 buildings ranging from 12-18 floors that will provide homes for “more than 4 000 families,” according to KCNA.
“Over 380 blocks of public and industrial buildings in hundreds of hectares” were reportedly built, including the Samjiyon County Stadium, Pegae Peak Ski Hill, Samjiyon County People’s Hospital, Samjiyon Township Shop, and factories such as the Samjiyon Blueberry Drink Factory and Samjiyon Souvenir Factory.
Perhaps in reference to the lack of available construction materials due in part to sanctions and the resulting apparent poor work quality by international standards, Tuesday’s reports also praised the use of “self-built building materials production bases.”
And while the town is now snow covered and will be until spring, with temperatures dropping well below zero for much of winter, workers are likely to be dispatched to Samjiyon throughout the season to continue work as in the past.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Rodong Sinmun