Since last summer, a feature of North Korean state media coverage of some of Kim Jong Un’s site inspections across the country has been furious and direct criticism of officials at factories and other sites.

During these trips, Kim is often shown in official pictures with glum expressions, and is quoted as highlighting the failures of officials to self-motivate or carry out previous remodeling plans, sometimes directly criticizing their “lax” attitudes or their “disregard” for central party directives.

And while Kim Jong Un’s instructions during on-site inspections have frequently generated quick and dramatic construction of major projects, including preparatory demolitions, the past year has seen some of his harshest criticisms, too, swiftly manifest in extreme overhauls on the ground.

The following examples do not comprise all of Kim’s major criticisms during site visits in the last year, but rather show those which demonstrated the most drastic changes.

Myohyangsan Medical Appliances Factory – August 21, 2018

Kim Jong Un appeared unhappy at a visit to the Myohyangsan Medical Appliances Factory last year | Photo: KCNA

As one of the biggest renovation projects of factories Kim Jong Un has recently inspected, the Myohyangsan Medical Appliances Factory (묘향산의료기구공장) is a prime example of the speed with which officials have carried out the leader’s instructions upon his reported tongue-lashing.

When he visited in August 2018 — published in the party daily newspaper the Rodong Sinmun on August 21 — Kim said he “cannot but be very concerned about and disappointed by the bad situation of the factory,” and that he “could not understand whether the factory was under remodeling and modernization or not… though it has been two years since the Party gave a warning to it.”

State media said he ordered the “destroying and transforming” of old buildings instead of simple remodeling, instructing the new factory grounds to include, in addition to production buildings, a Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism Study Hall, a room for revolutionary history education, a sci-tech learning space, a products exhibition room, and cultural and welfare facilities.

Daily medium-resolution satellite imagery provided by Planet Labs reveals that demolition of the old facilities was well underway just a month after his visit was published, with high-resolution Google Earth imagery showing the area almost completely demolished by October 19.

The factory is located near the Chongchon Hotel (청천려관) in the town center, while the International Friendship Exhibition House lies just to the east | Click to enlarge | Photo: Google Earth

Many new structures appeared to be under construction in the most recent high-resolution imagery uploaded to Google Earth from April 11, while at least 14 new buildings as part of the modern factory complex appeared nearing completion by August 10 according to Planet Labs imagery.

Considering Kim’s declared intent to turn the medical appliances factory into a “model … playing the leading role in the industry of medical appliances,” as well as the significance of Mt. Myohyang (Myohyangsan) and the existence of one of his rare executive airfields next to the nearby train station, it is possible the leader could return upon its opening.

Sinuiju Chemical Fibre Mill – July 2, 2018

The North Korean leader expressed disappointment with the state of affairs at the Sinuiju Chemical Fibre Mill | Photo: KCNA

The Sinuiju Chemical Fibre Mill (신의주화학섬유공장) is another sprawling complex which has seen major demolition since a Kim Jong Un inspection last year, though its progress appears slower than that of Myohyangsan, according to satellite imagery.

Tasked with manufacturing paper from reed pulp, for use in the “production of textbooks, reference books and notebooks for schoolers,” the factory was the subject of harsh words upon Kim’s visit.

The DPRK leader, in a visit to the grounds published in the Rodong on July 2 last year, “seriously reproved officials for failing to take pains to finish [the factory’s upgrades] as early as possible,” and “instructed the officials to urgently finish” tasks to “concentrate efforts on sprucing up the production buildings and accelerate the dredging project of [the] wharf for reed discharge.”

Timeline of progress for both the Sinuiju Chemical Fibre Mill and the adjacent Sinuiju Textile Mill (discussed below), both visited by Kim Jong Un on the same day in July 2018 | Click to enlarge | Photo: Planet Labs, edited by NK Pro

Activities along the waterfront possibly related to dredging first appeared in Planet Labs satellite imagery by early October, while Google Earth imagery shows many buildings in the complex had been demolished by January 2019.

By April 21 (shown below), at least 18 buildings both large and auxiliary had been demolished, though in the latest medium-resolution imagery from August 6 (shown above), it appears any major construction of new structures on the complex grounds has yet to begin.

In a visit to the remaining factory buildings in July, party Central Committee Vice Chairman Pak Pong Ju reportedly “discussed the measures to be taken to finish the remodeling and updating projects in the time fixed by the Party and at the level demanded by it,” though a deadline does not appear to have been publicized in state media.

Two large structures and support buildings remain while most others at the Sinuiju Chemical Fibre Mill located near the cross-border bridge to China have been demolished since last December, while other signs exist of continued work at the factory such as a new cover to an elevated track from the main building to the riverside, and other work along the water | Photo: Google Earth

Sinuiju Textile Mill – July 2, 2018

A visit by Kim to the Sinuiju Textile Mill (신의주방직공장) located next to the chemical fibre complex was published on the same day, with Kim reportedly being “briefed on the reality of the mill failing to fulfill its national economic plan every year” and as a result feeling “heartbroken to see the experienced mill… not retaining its proud tradition.”

He “set forth the detailed tasks and ways for rebuilding the mill on a modern basis as required by the present era,” ordering officials to “remodel the production buildings and the inside and outside of the mill,” the official state media report.

Kim Jong Un standing outside the Sinuiju Textile Mill, possibly pointing to the planned location of new worker dormitories | Photo: KCNA

One planned addition explicitly mentioned in the report is a complex of workers’ dormitories, with Kim reportedly saying during his visit that employees of the mill envied those of the oft-promoted state darlings the Pyongyang Kim Jong Suk Textile Mill and Silk Mill.

In response, Kim promised “he would provide a [dormitory] as wonderful as them,” and according to Planet Labs imagery, work had already begun on clearing the area by July 24.

Renovation work at the textile mill has not been as drastic as next door at the chemical fibre complex, with Google Earth imagery showing that the main large building has stayed intact and that, in addition to the likely dormitory construction which appeared nearly complete by late April, only a few other small structures appeared to have been demolished in preparation for new buildings.

The Sinuiju Textile Mill is sandwiched between the city’s main train station and the customs checkpoint at the foot of the cross-border bridge with China | Photo: Google Earth, edited by NK Pro

Onpho Holiday Camp – July 17, 2018

July of last year appeared to be a month of the leader’s discontent — perhaps part of an itinerary designed specifically to visit projects and facilities he had learned were falling behind expectations — and following his dual complaints in Sinuiju, he was off to the east coast for a marathon of admonishments.

Kim arrived after dark at the semi-remote Onpho Holiday Camp (온포휴양소) to the northwest of Kyongsong, and appeared unimpressed. He reportedly spoke at length about the problems there, saying the hot springs-sourced water in the indoor baths was “worse than at recently well-managed fish farms.”

Now-demolished buildings from the site of the Onpho Holiday Camp near Kyongsong, as well as shots of the DPRK leader appearing displeased | Photo: KCTV

He “pointed out its very bad condition, saying bathtubs for hot spring therapy are dirty, gloomy and unsanitary for their poor management,” according to the Rodong report, adding it should be rebuilt by the Korean People’s Army (KPA) “next year and [be presented] to the people as a gift.”

Some of the buildings Kim Jong Un visited were subsequently demolished just weeks after his visit — by August 4 according to Google Earth imagery — while others still continued to be demolished in the area in the months after.

Photo: Google Earth, edited by NK Pro

Progress on the project appears slow, however, perhaps in consideration for the much more rapid pace of the substantially larger hot springs project at Yangdok, officially set to be completed by October 10 this year after only beginning construction in January.

Temporary structures for workers began to populate the area last October, but by early May no new buildings were yet to be constructed.

Planet Labs imagery from August 5, however, shows that a handful of large buildings have begun to take shape in the months since.

At least five of what appear to be large buildings appear to the left of the marked zone by August, with smaller structures next to the river and another series of buildings to the right of the zone | Click to enlarge | Photo: Planet Labs, edited by NK Pro

Yombunjin Hotel – July 17, 2018

Published on the same day as Kim’s evisceration of the Onpho hot springs facilities, the DPRK leader visited the still-incomplete Yombunjin Hotel (염분진호텔) on the coast near Kyongsong and expressed dissatisfaction with the slow pace of construction six years after its frame was built.

He reportedly emphasized the “fact that the plastering of the inside hotel has not yet been finished” despite the lengthy construction period, and pointed out that “the ground design for exterior of the hotel is not good and its accommodation capacity is small.”

Kim Jong Un was not happy with the stalled progress at the Yombunjin Hotel | Photo: KCNA

Kim “gave instructions for the central and provincial designing forces to make an overall examination of the design and redesign it” to be completed by October 10, with “more lodging quarters and service facilities of various forms and purposes in the section of more than 600 meters along the shore around the hotel.”

Google Earth imagery shows that a new complex of temporary structures for workers appeared nearby by September, and that, by October 9, part of the main building of the hotel and a complex of small residences behind the building had been demolished.

By spring this year, new annexes had been built attached to the hotel while its design indeed appeared to have been altered.

Photo: Google Earth, edited by NK Pro

Chongjin Bag Factory – July 17, 2018

In a less severe example on the demolition front but otherwise relatively quick turnaround following Kim’s rebukes, the Chongjin Bag Factory (청진가방공장) saw substantial construction last year on its way towards falling in line with the DPRK leader’s stated plans to establish such schoolbag factories all around the country.

While the precise date of Kim’s visit was not revealed, his inspection of the factory was published on the same day as the previous two examples, and included remarks that “North Hamgyong Provincial Party Committee did not sincerely accept the Party’s policy on newly building a bag factory” and that the “committee has no revolutionary spirit.”

The above images show Kim Jong Un and the production room of the Chongjin Bag Factory during his July 2018 visit, while below are the new fast-built facilities | Photos: KCNA (top), Kumsugangsan Magazine, August 2019 (bottom)

Kim reportedly said they “disregarded” work initiated by the party, and found during his visit that “shabby rooms of the building at the Chongjin Regenerated Fibre Factory” were being improperly used to manufacture bags.

He also said the committee had “not yet built a design room, paying no attention to a poor products show room,” possibly indicating the purpose of the new buildings that went up quickly thereafter.

Work began on the new facilities by July 24, according to Planet Labs imagery, and in August 4-dated Google Earth imagery, three new buildings appeared to be nearly finished.

The new buildings were well underway just weeks after Kim’s site inspection was published | Click to enlarge | Photo: Google Earth

According to the appearance of the new buildings in the imagery, they may have been opened as early as November, and the Chongjin Bag Factory appears to have overcome its poor assessment by Kim Jong Un with mentions in state media in recent months lauding its production and positive customer reviews.

Shape up, comrades

In addition to the above examples, Kim Jong Un has also ordered other construction projects which resulted in rapid demolitions of local businesses and homes followed by large-scale construction — detailed in previous reporting from NK Pro including on the Yangdok Hot Springs Tourist Area and the Onpho Greenhouse Farm.

The reports often emphasize the party’s desire to see local officials meet, without extra nudging, either explicit instructions or more implicit expectations for building economic capacity at the local level and competing with others in their industry.

Construction around the country can be said to be booming in the last few years, even under sanctions, and it is likely that with the harsh and open criticisms published in the party daily, Kim hopes that will continue under more initiative down the ranks.

Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham

Featured image: KCNA