North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced during a visit to Sinuiju last month that the city’s modernization project must be finished by April 15, 2022. Kim has emphasized that the modernization of Sinuiju is an important “legacy” of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, who both handed down “teachings” relevant to the project’s completion.
“The Sinuiju Development Plan is being guided directly by Comrade Kim Jong Un and is similar in nature to the Sinuiju International Economic Zone,” said a high-level source in Pyongyang on December 10. “The development of Sinuiju is expected to take place for four years from 2018 and be completed by Kim Il Sung’s birthday in 2022.”
The announcements suggest that North Korea is intending to move forward with an expanded version of the Sinuiju International Economic Zone. The regime announced in 2016 that it would develop an international economic zone in Sinuiju 13 times larger than Yeouido in Seoul. However, the government has failed to garner support from foreign companies and investors due to international sanctions following the country’s fourth nuclear test.
“North Korea aims to construct a world-class international economic zone in Sinuiju that combines the tourism, advanced technology, financial and trade sectors. Some people, however, think that the project will take around five years to complete. There’s emphasis being placed on the success of the project to both resolutely crush the attempts by the combined imperialist forces to choke the country to death and to allow North Korea to achieve a golden age of socialist economic construction,” he said.
“The authorities have decided to focus on promoting tourism, which is an area unaffected by current sanctions. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cabinet and those charged with economic matters in the North Pyongan Province Party apparatus have been ordered to turn Sinuiju into a world-class, well-rounded city for tourists.”
North Korea appears to be trying to adapt to the strong sanctions imposed on the country by developing its tourism sector.
The country has already developed a wide-range of tourist packages that include watching the “Shining Fatherland” mass games, the Pyongyang International Marathon, and fireworks on the Daedong river to entice tourists. Kim Jong Un himself asked Chinese Premier Xi Jinping to support Chinese tourism in North Korea during their summit in June.
Daily NK recently reported on a tourism boom in the Chinese city of Dandong, which sits across from Sinuiju. More than 1,000 Chinese tourists appear to be visiting Sinuiju on a daily basis.
North Korea has constructed a range of commercial facilities to transform Sinuiju into a tourist-friendly city. There are also reported plans to modernize the city’s existing schools, hospitals, stores and markets.
“The specific plans suggest that around 10 world-class hotels of more than 20 floors each will be built, along with around 50 new apartment buildings,” a source in North Pyongan Province reported.
“There are plans to beautify the city so it can become more tourist friendly. This will be done by constructing high-rise apartment buildings and stores selling gold, silver and other products on each side of the road heading into the city from the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge.”
North Korea is collecting the funds required for the development through the so-called “Kim Il Sung – Kim Jong Il Fund.”
The fund was first established in 2007 as the “International Kim Il Sung Fund,” but was expanded and reorganized in 2012 to commemorate the 100th and 70th birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, respectively. The fund collected money from international business figures and those with capital who were supportive of the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il regimes.
“There was an order at the time to approach global economic investors who were friendly to the Party,” said a separate source in Pyongyang. “The authorities also stated that we would promise foreign investors that they would receive massive support and guaranteed priority in obtaining business opportunities if they contributed to the fund.”
North Korea also has plans to obtain funds through contributions from its domestic donju (nouveau riche) who control large amounts of capital, according to the source.
“The authorities talk about Mirae Scientists Street and Ryomyong Street when they emphasize the need for ideology-strengthening projects toward patriotic investors,” he said, adding that “the authorities are saying that North Korea must compensate investors who donate their money with Party membership, awards and state titles.”
The North Korean authorities appear to be promoting contributions to the “loyalty fund” to ordinary North Koreans as well, a development that will raise their already high rate of contribution to the state.
“The old Kim Il Sung-era slogan says ‘Those with strength, intelligence or money should all strive to contribute to the construction of a strong and prosperous country,’” said the initial Pyongyang-based source. “The emphasis is on the entire population contributing to the Sinuiju modernization project.”
The authorities conducted political ideology education sessions for residents living near the Sino-DPRK border in June that demanded they “voluntarily” contribute and devote themselves [to the project] out of patriotism and “contribute all their sweat and passion to the construction of a strong and prosperous fatherland.”