In North Korea, the modernization promised by Kim Jong-un has broken down

After announcing with fanfare that a defector who passed to the South and then returned to the North, who had been apprehended on July 19, would carry the Covid-19 – the examination of which proved “inconclusive”, according to the World Organization health – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) continues to claim to have no cases of contagion. An exception that arouses skepticism. On the other hand, the country is undeniably a victim of the collateral effects of the pandemic. If the health crisis seems latent, the deterioration of the economy due to confinement is obvious.

The delay in carrying out the regime’s major projects, including the construction of the gigantic Pyongyang General Hospital, is a sign of this stagnation. Its two twin towers, occupying a land of some 60,000 m2, came out of the earth in four months. But the momentum broke. And the hospital will not be ready, as the North Korean leader promised, for the 75e anniversary of the founding of the Labor Party of Korea on October 10.

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During an inspection of the hospital’s work on July 20, Kim Jong-un sharply criticized officials for the delay. “Noble project of the party which tarnishes its image in the population”, that he blamed on poor management. Another big building site, the gigantic tourist complex of Wonsan-Kalma, is also at a standstill. These setbacks suggest that other smaller ones have also been cut short.


In search of resources to finance its major works, the State calls on entrepreneurs, invited, under “patriotism” – in other words, loyalty to the regime – to make “voluntary” donations, advance Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, from the Foreign Policy Research Institute (United States) on the site North Korean Economy Watch.

Undated official photo of Kim Jong-un inspecting the construction site of the Wonsan-Kalma Coastal Tourist Area, North Korea.

By their visibility, the pharaonic projects of the regime are an instrument of propaganda. Unfinished, they constitute an affront. For about fifteen years, the steel pyramid carcass of the Ryugyong Hotel (105 floors) was such a humiliation to the regime that visitors were asked not to photograph it. In 2012, it was covered with glass walls which give it a more pleasant appearance. Simple exterior “grooming” because the interior layout remains to be done.

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With Pyongyang General Hospital, Kim Jong-un launched a less sumptuous project, which was meant to symbolize his benevolence towards the population in times of pandemic. The delay in construction, reportedly due to a lack of imported construction materials and medical equipment, is symptomatic of the difficulties the DPRK is facing.

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