Following an order from Kim Jong Un in November 2018 to modernize Sinuiju, the city has seen a rise in apartment construction projects. Sources in the country are now reporting that the government plans to evict 100,000 local residents from the city.
Sinuiju has a population of 360,000 people, which means that almost a third of the population would be forcibly removed from their homes if such plans were to proceed. North Korean officials in the city, however, would likely face a strong rebuke from local residents.
“The Sinuiju modernization plans include the eviction of 100,000 local residents to areas outside the city and to replace them with 100,000 people seen to be more loyal supporters of the regime,” a Daily NK source based in Pyongyang reported.
“Those targeted for removal include those who have lived in China illegally, those convicted of drug-related crimes, people arrested for possessing or watching ‘impure’ videos, and others who have committed various offenses.”
“The idea is ridiculous because it would imply that, in reality, half of the entire population of North Korea is eligible for forced relocation. It won’t be an easy task for the authorities to select 100,000 people of the 300,000 or so people living in Sinuiju,” the source said. “The authorities may include people who committed crimes 10 or so years ago if they can’t find enough people to forcibly remove.”
The eviction plans also appear aimed at ensuring the authorities face less resistance in tearing down existing housing blocks to make way for new construction. “The authorities have promoted the plan as a way to get rid of criminals from the city, but it’s really to forcibly remove people for development,” the source added.
Another source based in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK that when Kim Jong Un visited Sinuiju last year he ordered all “impure elements’to be forcibly removed from the area.”
Accordingly, the source said, the Sinuiju modernization project is being carried out at the national level so the regime is aiming to “eradicate impure elements from the city.”
When Kim Jong Un visited Sinuiju in November 2018, he ordered local officials to “create a modern and magnificent border city.” This suggests that Sinuiju’s modernization is aimed at promoting the city to an international audience. Urban undesirables such as criminals or the homeless could potentially tarnish the city’s image.
The plan to deport 100,000 Sinuiju residents, however, is not widely known among the city’s residents. “The plan will come into effect in 2020,” said the source. “The authorities don’t want locals to know about it.” Local officials are reportedly remaining tight-lipped about the specifics of the plan as they try to prevent any uproar among the local population.
A North Korean defector who previously held a high-level position in the country told Daily NK, “In the past, there were many times when the authorities forcibly relocated people when needed. In the 1960s, overpopulation in Pyongyang became a problem, so the government evicted some of the residents to other places. In the early 2000s, those deemed impure or with criminal records were forcibly removed from Rason when it became a special economic zone.”
“It’s natural from the government’s perspective that they would forcibly remove people before the start of the Sinuiju modernization project,” the initial source added.
“If the evictions take place, some will likely be moved just outside of the city while the rest will be sent to places outside North Pyongan Province.”
The Rodong Sinmun reported on Kim Jong Un’s visit to Sinuiju on November 16, 2018. The article stated that “[Kim Jong Un] ordered high-rise apartments and provincial and municipal-level public buildings to be built, along with a city center and central city road, areas for high-rise and super high-rise housing districts, and to ensure the entire city is covered in parks.”
Kim additionally called for the construction of service facilities including department stores, theaters, cinemas, physical education areas, ice-skating rinks, science and technology libraries, and hotels.
Sinuiju locals are reportedly wondering whether the modernization project has already begun after seeing workers stacking sand and gravel bags (typical materials required for construction) near the banks of the Yalu River.
There are still questions, however, about how the North Korean government will procure all of the materials it needs for the project given the international sanctions in place.