North may be developing Samjiyon into a tourism site

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North may be developing Samjiyon into a tourism site

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered officials to develop Samjiyon County in northeastern Ryanggang Province, the birthplace of his father Kim Jong-il and also where his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, led revolutionary efforts against Japanese colonial forces during the early 20th century.

Kim’s visit to Samjiyon in late November had a much more significant meaning than what was reported the following day by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, according to an anonymous Seoul government source exclusively reported by the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday.

While the news agency told North Korean viewers that Kim visited factories and military units there, it appears he spent most of his time on an exclusive ranch, devising policies for the New Year.

One key initiative, said the South Korean source, was a major development project in Samjiyon, located at the base of Mount Paektu, which stands on the border with China.

“Kim Jong-un often visits Mount Paektu when he’s about to make a special decision,” said the government official, “like right before he executed Jang Song-thaek in December 2013.”

Jang was Kim’s uncle, who once was the second-most powerful man in the regime before he was killed by his own nephew on charges of treason.

“This time,” the official continued, “he made an order to come up with a plan to modernize the undeveloped regions of Ryanggang Province into Pyongyang.”

To do so, it appears Kim will deploy a team of experts who redesigned the urban landscape of Pyongyang and restored the northern parts of the country after a massive flood last summer. It remains to be seen whether the development project will be mentioned in Kim’s New Year’s message.

“By developing Ryanggang Province and Samjiyon County,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University in Seoul, “Kim Jong-un is trying to highlight his lineage to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il.”

The professor added that Kim is also seeking economic gains by promoting it as a tourist-friendly zone and attracting Chinese visitors.

On July 11, the Korean Central News Agency claimed electrical work for a tourist zone in Samjiyon, named the Mubong Special Zone for International Tours, was complete and that within the next few years, roads and telecommunication networks would also be set up.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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