Massive international market plans for Musan cancelled following Hanoi summit failure

Musan County, North Hamgyong Province
Musan County, North Hamgyong Province. Image: Daily NK

The North Korean authorities were planning to construct a massive “international market” in North Hamgyong Province earlier in the year, but the failure of US-North Korea talks in February led to the cancellation of the project, sources in North Korea report. The regime planned to reinvigorate the country’s economy and hoped that the US-North Korea talks would lead to the lifting of international sanctions. However, things did not go according to plan.

“A new market was going to be built earlier this year in Musan County. The project site was all prepared, but the failure of the US-North Korea talks led to the construction being halted,” a North Hamgyong Province-based source told Daily NK.

“The authorities planned to build this big market with the expectation that sanctions would be lifted and support would come from the international community after the talks ended successfully. After the Great Leader (Kim Jong Un)’s return from Vietnam, however, the construction stopped.”

According to the source, the planned site was near the Yalu River and was the site of numerous apartment buildings until a 2016 flood turned the area into an empty lot. The Central Party created the plans for the market and party officials visited the area to conduct surveys of the land.

“It was supposed to be an international market built in collaboration with China,” he said. “Former Cabinet Premier Pak Pong Ju and an official from China’s city of Helong visited Musan in January for a meeting to discuss how to collaborate.”

The report suggests that North Korea had high hopes for the success of the US-North Korea summit. During his 2019 New Year’s Address, Kim Jong Un said, “I want to believe that our relations with the United States will bear good fruit this year, as inter-Korean relations have improved markedly due to the efforts of the two sides.”

The North Korean authorities likely hoped that a successful summit would lead to the lifting of international sanctions, followed by a rise in foreign investment and revitalization of the economy. In July 2018, the authorities opened the “Wonjong Border Market” to attract Chinese tourists near the Wonjong-ri customs office in Rason, North Hamgyong Province.

However, the construction of the Musan international market was halted and no further work on the site has been conducted for the past three months. The project appears to have been cancelled.

Wonjang Border Market
Wonjang Border Market. Image: Daily NK

People who were aware of the project had high hopes that it would lead to economic benefits for the country. “The shutdown of the Musan Mine led to a lot of troubles for people who depended on it,” a separate source in North Hamgyong Province reported. “There was a lot of hope put into the market, but people are now just disappointed that it’s been cancelled.”

Some of the wealthier local residents allegedly gave bribes to government officials in return for being awarded desirable roles at the new market. “The authorities misjudged the outcomes of the US-North Korea summit, but only local residents have suffered as a result.”

She added that many Musan residents also criticized former Cabinet Premier Pak Pong Ju’s visit to the construction site in January.

“Pak was the country’s highest-level official, but local residents didn’t like seeing him visit the site to meet with a lower-level provincial Chinese official because, to them, it shows how badly China treats North Korea,” she said.