Various areas of the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) just across the border in North Korea show signs of continued activity, NK Pro analysis of recent high-resolution satellite imagery shows.

Changes in at least a dozen lots in the complex, most of which amount to movement of vehicles and other objects as well as landscaping or gardening, can be seen when comparing August 11-dated imagery (click for full size) provided by Planet Labs with November 17, 2017 imagery from Google Earth.

North Korean state media boasted of plans to “more vigorously operate” factories at Kaesong last October, but authorities appear not to have followed through with those claims, based on the latest analysis.

When South Korea pulled out of the KIC in February 2016, companies were not allowed to clear out their possessions or return for final assessments, essentially having to abandon their property.

While the degree to which the North Koreans may have appropriated the property of companies on their lots is still unclear, any major incursion in this area would be cause for concern in the South and potentially damaging to inter-Korean relations – especially amid warming ties this year.

But while this analysis shows there is some activity, it appears that no major utilization of facilities is ongoing inside the KIC at present, following a similar assessment by NK Pro last October – a positive sign for inter-Korean relations and the potential for restarting operations, pending South Korean willingness as well as sanctions issues.

South Korean officials visited the KIC in June | Photo: Ministry of Unification

The revelations come as joint work to renovate and repair facilities in the complex has been officially underway since early July, following a visit by a South Korean delegation in June to assess conditions in preparation for opening a liaison office.

After the one-day visit to the KIC, where ROK officials “meticulously reviewed” the area, the Ministry of Unification (MOU) said there was “a considerable number of venues that need renovation including part of machinery and equipment in disable state due to flooding, water leak on a wall, and glass breakage.”

Overall, however, the MOU said “most of the facilities were externally in good condition.”

This analysis of recent satellite imagery appears to confirm these reports, but also reveals that some areas are being used by North Koreans with access to the complex – most of which appear in lots unrelated to the planned liaison office.


Throughout the KIC, there appears to be evidence of landscaping upkeep and gardening by the North Koreans.

Though it is difficult to determine the precise level of landscaping, it appears maintenance crews have not allowed overgrowth of grass along sidewalks in many parts of the complex.

Empty lots which have not yet seen development, however, remain barren and in many cases untouched, without any particular landscaping apparent.

No major new areas appear to have been transformed for gardening purposes since an October 2017 NK Pro report detailed previous activities in this area.

One particular area – in an unassigned lot to the east of the tennis courts (image center) on the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Consultation Office premises – did see the appearance of new objects resembling storage boxes or coverings.

This is the site of the new liaison office, which the ROK team visited in June and which received electricity from South Korea for the first time in years during a test last week.

A review of recent lower-resolution satellite imagery shows that these new objects only appeared sometime in the first week of August, suggesting it may be in relation to the known joint work ongoing on the facilities.

There may be one vehicle in the parking lot outside the southern building in the lot, but otherwise there appears no major presence at the facilities – though the fact the new satellite image was captured on a Saturday should also be taken into account.

First appearing right around the time South Korea pulled out of the zone in February 2016, a large fenced-off garden behind the fire station in the same section to the east (image right) is also still in use, the imagery suggests.

Bus lot

A bus lot in the northeastern section of KIC serves as a simple indicator of activity in the complex, though changes in bus positions may simply be a reflection of restarted inter-Korean cooperation in the past few months.

NK Pro analysis found that the number of buses total in the bus lot has not changed since last winter, and while many have been moved, the majority appear in the same positions as before.

A large work truck parked outside the adjacent wastewater treatment plant to the east also now appears parked in a different position nearby.

Four blue buses which appeared parked along the road further south inside the complex last November, however, are unaccounted for.

In general, no other cars or vehicles appeared to be driving on any of the roads inside the confines of the KIC in the August 11-dated imagery.

Changes at company lots

Analysis of the satellite imagery reveals that there were noticeable changes on the premises of only a handful of South Korean companies of the 125 registered in connection to the KIC at the time of its closing in 2016.

Two adjacent sections along the western edge of the KIC comprised most of the changes, while other changes also occurred in the same parking lot that previously saw the storage and then disappearance of over 100 vehicles.

First, there is machinery chain producer Hankuk Chain Industrial Co., Ltd, whose lot saw the movement of at least one large shipping container or truck trailer-sized object behind the main building there.

In the comparison image above, it is difficult to be certain exactly how the objects were moved due to differing perspectives in the satellite imagery, but change is evident in the fact that the two white rectangular objects – the smaller one being on the left – are separated by only one brown container in the newer image compared to two in the previous image.

Additionally, a blue object newly appeared along the road at the lot’s west edge.

When contacted by NK Pro regarding the change, a representative for Hankuk Chain declined to comment, instead saying that the company does not plan to return to the KIC if it is reopened.

In the same sector of land is Seokchon Pottery, where there are signs of at least some activity in the grassy area in front of the building and potentially the removal of several long rectangular containers or truck trailers.

A small object, perhaps a vehicle, near a rear loading area of the building has also disappeared, comparison of the satellite imagery shows.

A representative for the company told NK Pro they were not qualified to comment on the changes and that all other employees for the company had left following the closing of their Kaesong operation.

Across the street from these two companies is a section where sock-producing company Mast once did business, whose driveway faces the western boundary fence of the KIC.

The only difference in their lot over the last eight months is the apparent removal of a large white square object about the size of a vehicle from the grassy area outside the front parking lot.

This grassy area saw other changes occur over the time following the end of KIC operations in early 2016, with the white object first appearing sometime in 2017, according to a review of past Google Earth imagery.

A representative from Mast told NK Pro this week that they do plan to restart operations at the facilities if the KIC is reopened following the necessary political negotiations between North and South Korea, but said they would have to inspect the area themselves before commenting on the apparent changes seen in the satellite images.

Besides these, there is the second location of clothing-producer Shinwon Ebenezer Company, which previously received attention as the spot selected by North Korean officials to store vehicles belonging to companies from throughout the entire KIC.

While the vehicles were removed in early 2017, two buses or truck trailers now parked near the entrance of the parking lot appeared sometime in the last eight months, satellite imagery reveals.

The two long rectangular white objects do appear to resemble the two now missing from the Seokchon Pottery lot, but any connection between the two cannot be confirmed.

Other signs

The DPRK’s Central Special Development Guidance Bureau (CSDGB), which lies in the southern central end of the KIC within view of the Shinwon parking lot mentioned above, is the only facility which has seen major vehicle movement besides the bus lot.

At least half a dozen vehicles have been moved or have disappeared from the parking area outside this building between November and August, indicating the building is still in use.

Several of what appear to be cement trucks and other vehicles have also been removed from the industrial vehicle parking area across from the CSDGB.

As for the entrances to the KIC itself, there are no vehicles parked or waiting at either the South or North entrances, nor are there any signs of activity at Panmun Station or the railyard near the southern entrance.

Similar patterns of trash piles inside a trash collection area in the zone’s northeast in both November and August-dated imagery also point to the conclusion that no major activity in the zone is ongoing, as the area previously changed much more rapidly before 2016 when the KIC was still open.

In general, it appears that while some lots are being used by the North Korean side and that some items are being moved around, such conclusions from satellite imagery alone may only suggest that large-scale use of facilities in the complex is not ongoing.

Activities inside the facilities, however, is another story, though the comments from ROK officials who traveled there in June at least did not indicate factories were in use, despite the North Korean claims of plans to do so late last year.

Companies looking to return to their premises in case the KIC does reopen in the future will have to make detailed, in-person reviews before assessing the full scale of North Korean use over the period of the zone’s closure.

Edited by Chad O’Carroll and Oliver Hotham

Featured image: Planet Labs