◆Authorities face punishment…
“Create a world-class international tourist city...”
In November 2016, Kim Jong-un suddenly ordered the construction of a "mountain cultural city" in Samjiyon County located in Ryanggang Province, the northernmost part of North Korea.
Samjiyon is located at the foot of Mt. Paektu and has been labelled by the regime a "sacred place of revolution." South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who visited North Korea in September 2018, stood at the top of Mt. Paektu with Kim Jong-un after going through Samjiyon.
Kim Jong-un, who is enthusiastic about the development of Samjiyon, frequently visited the site and pushed the progression of construction work until the completion of the project in December 2019. His plan was to generate foreign currency revenue by attracting tourists from China.
The North Korean authorities demolished all the shabby houses in the centre of Samjiyon, built new apartments and a hospital, brought in young people as new residents, and elevated the area from a county to a city. Now, however, these young people are reportedly leaving Samjiyon in droves. What is happening?
In mid-March, we spoke with our reporting partner, who lives in Ryanggang Province.
◆ No Chinese tourists because of coronavirus.
――Why are young people leaving Samjiyon?
"People were told that '(Chinese President) Xi Jinping said he would send them 100 million tourists.,' and they expected this city to become a tourist city and bring in more income, but not a single tourist from China has come because of coronavirus. Although young men were sent into the area in groups, life deep in the mountains was too hard for them to adapt."
―― But I heard that there is a splendid all-electric apartment building built in Samjiyon and that the electricity supply is much better than in other places.
"A new hospital has indeed been built and electricity is available for more than 15 hours a day, but there are no tourists, so there is no income. Since the area is a potato-producing region, the rationing is all potatoes. Many people have given up because they can't do business and don't know when the pandemic will end."
――What do you mean that people can't do business?
"Markets are not allowed in Samjiyon in the first place. The market is closed, and only state-run and cooperative stores are operating."