The Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory completion ceremony attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was quickly put together two days before the actual event, Daily NK has learned. 

“On Apr. 28 the [North Korean communist party’s] Central Committee abruptly issued an order to prepare the factory’s completion ceremony,” a source inside North Korea told Daily NK on Monday. 

“For two days the construction workers fully devoted themselves to preparing for the ceremony. They worked themselves to the bone day and night to create the appearance of a finished factory, coating the outside of the building and fitting it with glass, among other things,” he added. 

According to the source, soldiers who had been dispatched to work on the Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory had been putting the finishing touches on the interior in late April when they abruptly received the order to complete the exterior of the building. 

In addition, all factory personnel and even their families were reportedly mobilized to plant flower beds and clean the roads within the factory grounds.

Following the abrupt order, those responsible for the fertilizer plant construction project reportedly anticipated a visit from a high-ranking member of the Cabinet.

“Nobody onsite expected that the event would involve Kim Jong Un himself,” the source said. “Everyone knows that construction was not complete, but when people heard there would be a ribbon cutting ceremony, they started speculating about whether the construction workers had falsified reports to give the impression that it would be possible to finish everything.”


In fact, the Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory is reportedly unable to manufacture phosphatic fertilizer because of the difficulty of importing equipment and raw materials. The source noted that the greatest obstacle to the completion of the factory is the import of modernized equipment, as well as a special chemical reagent that is crucial for the manufacturing process. 

Daily NK previously reported [article in Korean] that the fertilizer factory construction project had been facing obstacles due to difficulties in importing certain machinery and equipment.

The Central Committee reportedly issued an order, however, that the factory must have “at least two” production lines running by Oct. 10, the anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s communist party. While North Korea’s leadership is not demanding that all production lines of the factory become operational, it is clear they want the factory capable of producing at least some fertilizer by that time.  

Once the factory is operational, North Korean authorities will likely promote the feat as a victory for North Korea’s self-reliance, including the so-called “frontal breakthrough” approach announced by Kim Jong Un at the end of last year. 

Currently, the majority of the fertilizer used in North Korea is manufactured in China. Despite the closure of the border with China as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, sulfate and nitrogen fertilizers are known to be smuggled into North Korea from China.


After an almost three week absence, Kim Jong Un reappeared on May 2 through photographs on state media showing him at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the fertilizer factory. 

Kim Jong Un’s decision to emerge in public at the factory may have been an attempt to draw attention to the fruits of North Korea’s “frontal breakthrough” strategy, as well as to inspire increased food production ahead of the farming season, which begins in earnest this month.

“The reason they held a ribbon cutting ceremony for a factory where construction wasn’t even fully finished, and one with Kim Jong Un present, is that they want to rally the entire [communist] party, the military and the public to the cause of overcoming the country’s food shortages by encouraging the increased production of fertilizer, which is a crucial component in farming,” the source said. 

On a related note, Rodong Sinmun published an editorial on Tuesday titled “The First Roar of Victory,” praising the Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory as the “first result of a magnificent frontal breakthrough.” 

The paper also likened the completion of the factory as “the first flag of victory in the battle for the building of a powerful socialist state this year, the year that the great frontal breakthrough strategy was first proposed,” and exhorted, “Let us use the frontal breakthrough strategy to overcome all obstacles in the way of our progress.”

*Translated by Violet Kim

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to