Progress at Samjiyon, the site one of North Korea’s largest and most politically-important construction projects, has been swift in recent months following two on-site visits from DPRK leader Kim Jong Un, satellite imagery provided by Planet Labs shows.

In Samjiyon town, close to the Chinese border and Mt. Paektu, major advancements in construction and road work have occurred in the roughly 40-days between Kim’s early July and mid-August field visits. 

According to satellite imagery, over one hundred buildings have gone up since Kim’s first visit in early July with the majority of progress appearing to have been made in the eastern-most section of the city surrounding the Mt. Paektu Museum, shown at the bottom of the site plan below.

Official blueprint of Samjiyon construction project as of July | Click to enlarge | Photo: KCNA

The blueprint for the “new city” includes new factories, museums, government buildings, schools, recreational facilities, housing, and hotels.

Purple and red-colored objects signify new buildings, while beige-colored objects represent existing buildings to be incorporated into the new city scheme.

In all, over 400 new structures are slated for construction, and while progress has developed significantly, the project’s overall completion still appears a long way off.

Most of the recent progress appears to have been made along the town’s main thoroughfares between the Mt. Paektu museum and a planned mountain resort to the west of the town.

Along the main road opposite the mountain resort, multiple buildings set to house meat and stew restaurants are in the advanced stages of construction. In imagery dated September 20, red roofing appears to have been added to a number of the buildings.

While the planned resort has not yet taken shape, new paths can be seen along and adjacent to the Pegaebong ski hill possibly indicated that construction may begin shortly.

Satellite images corresponding to top of the blueprint, west side of Samjiyon | Click to enlarge | Photo: Planet Labs

A comparison of the blueprint and the most recent satellite images shows that the ground has been cleared at the site of a new horse track and equestrian center.

The adjacent block of land to the east – which is set to be turned into a park, gym, exhibition hall, and lodging compound – has not yet been cleared of existing buildings.

However, the demolition of buildings and the clearing of land appears to have been done at the future site of various factories. A new boys school has also reached a similarly advanced stage of construction as the nearby restaurant buildings.

But the most dramatic progress over the last few months has occurred on the east side of town, shown at the bottom of the blueprint. 

Satellite images show that surrounding the wing-shaped Mt. Paektu Museum, which was finished last fall, over 100 new buildings have been built, whereas July 17-dated images showed that only a couple dozen had yet begun construction.

Satellite images corresponding to the bottom of the blueprint, east side of Samjiyon | Click to enlarge | Photo: Planet Labs

Most of the text on the high-resolution blueprint provided by state outlet Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) is still too blurry to make out, but legible labels show that buildings along the main road – leading from the ski resort to the museum – will house restaurants.

One company, the Pegaebong Trading Company (베개봉무역회사), was labeled on the map as recipient of a new building, which has been added onto an existing structure and appears to have been nearly completed since July.

While most new roadwork appears unfinished, at least one section leading to the existing Kim Jong Il statue and memorial (commemorating Samjiyon as the sacred birthplace of the country’s second leader) appears to have been newly paved.

Across from the statue and along this road are new local party buildings such as a youth league, women’s and workers’ committee centers, as well as a Kimilsungia-Kimjongilia greenhouse – all of which have developed significantly since July.

A birds-eye view of Samjiyon from August looking across the green park splitting the city and towards the Pegaebong ski hill | Photo: KCNA

Directly to the west is a planned children’s traffic education park – facilities now appearing in numerous cities across the country – which has seen activity in satellite imagery, and a bicycle rental station just outside, according to the blueprint.

Nearby, there has been progress on a new military administration building within an existing complex of local People’s Security and police facilities, which includes an “exports production facility” operated under local People’s Security.

Another priority among the hundreds of buildings planned at Samjiyon is what appears to be a large military compound in the north of the town.

Satellite images corresponding to the right side of the blueprint, north side of Samjiyon | Click to enlarge | Photo: Planet Labs

The labels are again difficult to read, but legible text “Korean People’s Army” and “army base” appears next to many of the buildings, which, as of late September, appear to be nearing completion. 

Most of the area shown in the satellite image above comprises existing buildings that will continue to be used, according to the blueprint.

In the area adjacent to the large stream and green park nearby, which splits the city in half, construction on a planned hospital has yet to begin.

An existing jangmadang (marketplace) situated inside the green zone is not labeled on the blueprint but does not appear to have been demolished in the latest satellite images.

Work has also yet to begin on a new wing of an existing school as well as nine smaller buildings to the west of the green park.

Additionally, one of the largest building complexes in the Samjiyon blueprint, situated between the sports field and the planned hillside resort in the northwest corner of town, has yet to reach the ground clearing stage.

With winter fast approaching, authorities are likely looking to make as much progress as possible before the snow covers the city, likely from November through April.

As an NK Pro report from July showed, civilians are being mobilized to work the Samjiyon project, which will become more difficult to manage in the winter months.

Edited by Oliver Hotham

Featured image: KCNA