North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has opened a flagship construction project close to Mount Paektu, a symbol of the nation and officially the birthplace of his father and predecessor, state media reported yesterday.
The ceremony was held in snowy scenes before thousands of soldiers and civilians, and portrayed as a demonstration of the resilience of the North, which is subject to international sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
It comes with time running out on Pyongyang’s demand for the US to offer it fresh concessions by the end of this year and ahead of Kim’s New Year’s Day speech, a key political set piece in the isolated country.
Photo: Reuters / Korean Central News Agency
Kim donned a black leather trench coat and gloves for the opening, and — surrounded by fur-hatted officials — cut a red ribbon in front of a statue of his father, Kim Jong-il.
Winter already has North Korea’s far north firmly in its grip and icicles hung from buildings, Korean Central Television footage showed — the largely empty streets covered in snow.
Banners proclaimed: “Long live the great leader of the force of our party and country, comrade Kim Jong-un.”
Kim Jong-un had “worked heart and soul to turn Samjiyon County, the sacred place of the revolution, into the utopia town under socialism,” the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
The North Korean people were “advancing along the straight road chosen by themselves without any vacillation, despite the worst trials,” it said.
Nuclear negotiations with the US have been deadlocked since a Hanoi summit broke down in February, and Pyongyang has issued a series of increasingly assertive comments in the past several weeks as its deadline approaches.
In a separate report yesterday, KCNA quoted North Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Thae-song as saying: “What gift the US receives for Christmas depends entirely on the US’ decision.”
Pyongyang has poured huge resources into the rebuilding of Samjiyon, the closest town to Mount Paektu, a dormant volcano on the border with China.
Kim Jong-un is closely associated with the scheme and has visited the area several times, reportedly riding a white horse to the mountain’s summit in October.
The vast Samjiyon project includes a museum of revolutionary activities; a winter sports training complex; processing plants for blueberries and potatoes; and 10,000 apartments.
Thousands of workers reportedly swarmed over the site during construction, many of them soldiers. Much of the Korean People’s Army is devoted to construction.
Students have been sent to work on the project during university holidays, KCNA had reported previously, while diplomats have said that children have also been deployed.
According to North Korean propaganda, Kim Jong-il was born at the nearby Mount Paektu Secret Camp, where his father, former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, was fighting the Japanese — although independent historians and Soviet records have said that he was actually born in Russia, where North Korea’s founder was in exile.
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